The Yankees have had an eventful few days. They suffered a nightmarish, costly loss on Monday, bounced back behind a brilliant shutout performance by Mashairo Tanaka last night, and added a relief ace to their bullpen via trade. They had a chance to get some positive momentum going with a series win in Tampa. Instead, they fell again in frustrating fashion.
Nathan Eovaldi was scheduled to start for the Rays, but was traded to the Red Sox just hours prior to the game. That forced the Rays into one of their infamous bullpen days, with Ryne Stanek as the opener. He navigated a scoreless first inning before giving way to Jamie Schultz.
Against Schultz, the Yankees manufactured a run in the second. Gleyber Torres walked in his first at-bat back from the disabled list, and Greg Bird dropped down a bunt single against the shift to put two men on. Torres moved to third on Miguel Andujar’s fly out, and scored on Neil Walker’s sacrifice fly to put the Yankees on the board.
From there, the game settled into a quiet groove. Schultz set the Yankees down in order in the third and fourth innings, and Diego Castillo came on for the fifth and sixth innings. The Yankees didn’t put a runner on base between Bird’s second-inning single and a single by Walker with one out in the fifth.
Luis Cessa appeared up to the task, briefly at least. Cessa had plenty of success early on with his slider, inducing a bushel of whiffs on the breaker. He breezed through the first five innings without yielding a run, and entered the sixth having thrown just 65 pitches.
That is where he embarked on his third trip through the Tampa lineup and finally ran into trouble. Adam Moore singled on the first pitch of the inning, and Kevin Kiermaier lined a home run into the right field seats to give the Rays a 2-1 lead. Cessa rebounded to induce a fly out from Matt Duffy, but manager Aaron Boone acted swiftly, removing Cessa in favor of Jonathan Holder after 5.1 innings of work.
Cessa struck out three and walked none, allowing the pair of runs on four hits. He was about as effective as the Yankees could have reasonably asked for, but he still exited the game with a deficit. Even so, if Cessa can perform to this level for as long as the Yankees have a hole in their rotation, the team will be satisfied.
Holder couldn’t hold the Rays there, though. He owned a microscopic 0.47 ERA over his last 32 appearances, but CJ Cron tagged him for a solo shot that just barely cleared the wall in left-center to give the Rays a vital insurance run.
For most of the game, the Yankees went down quietly versus the Rays’ bullpen day, with hardly a threatening jam or rally. They finally had something going in the eighth when Brett Gardner walked and Didi Gregorius singled to put runners on the corners with one out. Giancarlo Stanton managed the Yankees’ second sac fly of the game to cut the deficit to 3-2.
The Rays performed some tricky maneuvering in the ninth, moving Sergio Romo, who had finished the eighth, to third base, and bringing in Jonny Venters to pitch to Bird. Venters retired Bird, then Romo moved back to the mound, and Venters exited the game in favor of shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.
Romo nearly let things slip away. Andujar singled, and an error on an Aaron Hicks groundball put two runners on with one out. Pinch hitter Austin Romine fouled out, however, and Gardner struck out to end the game.
The Yankees came into the series with a chance to make up ground on Boston while facing an inferior team. They left having dropped two games by just one run, including perhaps the most frustrating loss of the season on Monday. The margins of defeat were thin, but the Yankees’ margin for error is in general nonexistent at this point, chasing the historic Red Sox. They’ll have to pick things up again tomorrow night as they start a four-game home set against the Royals.