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The Juan Soto admiration society is growing within the New York Yankees' clubhouse and in the stands at Yankee Stadium, only heightening anticipation of his next big moment.

Soto delivered a pair of clutch moments Friday, putting the Yankees in position to clinch another series Saturday afternoon when they host the Tampa Bay Rays.

New York is off to a 14-6 start after opening the series with a 5-3 win thanks to Soto's latest dynamic performance.

Soto launched a three-run homer to cap a five-run seventh inning. The 409-foot blast carried about halfway up in the second deck in right field. In the third inning, he made a leaping catch at the warning track in right to deny a potential homer by Richie Palacios.

Those plays drew some early "MVP chants" from fans who have seen him play seven home games so far.

"It feels great," Soto said. "They really support me, day in and day out. It just feels amazing."

Soto ended his 20th game with a .347 average to go along with five homers and 20 RBIs. He is even better with runners in scoring position, hitting .563 (9-for-16) with three homers and 17 RBIs.

"The work and the pride he puts into all facets of the game, that's been the coolest thing to witness," New York manager Aaron Boone said.

The Yankees are also 5-0 when Soto homers, and the right fielder has reached base safely in 12 straight games and in all but two games so far.

"Not very surprised," Yankees starter Clarke Schmidt said of Soto. "It's like every moment, it's big games, or big ABs. He's just a special player."

The Rays totaled a season-high 14 hits as Palacios homered and Issac Paredes hit a two-run single.

Tampa Bay also went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, and errors by second baseman Curtis Mead and first baseman Yandy Diaz set up Soto's latest big hit.

"Two errors and a walk. You got those types of hitters coming up, they can make you pay, and they did," Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said.

Zach Eflin (1-2, 4.63 ERA), who has alternated rocky and effective outings, goes for the Rays. He is coming off consecutive starts against the Los Angeles Angels with not-so-good and then good results. He allowed five runs on nine hits in five innings on April 8, and then surrendered six hits in 6 1/3 scoreless innings when he took a no-decision on Monday.

Eflin is 3-1 with a 1.86 ERA in five career starts covering 29 innings against the Yankees. The right-hander was 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA in three starts against them last season.

Lefty Nestor Cortes (1-1, 4.50), who is coming off his best and his shortest performances of the season, goes for the Yankees. He allowed two hits in eight innings of a 7-0 win over the visiting Miami Marlins on April 8, but followed it up by surrendering four runs on five hits in four-plus innings on Sunday in an 8-7 loss in 10 innings at Cleveland.

Cortes is 2-3 with a 4.50 ERA in 12 career appearances (seven starts) covering 50 innings against the Rays. His most recent appearance against Tampa Bay came last May 13 in New York when he allowed six runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings. He came away with a no-decision as New York won 9-8.

--Field Level Media

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