It looked like the Yankees’ offense might finally break through against the Rays, as the Bombers loaded the bases with nobody out in the ninth. After going just 3-25 with runners in scoring position in the series to that point, the bats were primed to end the drought and complete the comeback.
Instead, frustrations grew to astronomical levels, as Greg Bird, Brett Gardner and Austin Romine were retired, and the Yankees dropped the series finale to the Rays 3-1. The ninth inning rally was snuffed out by Rays reliever Adam Kolarek, who entered the game with a 6.00 ERA. The Bombers couldn’t solve Blake Snell or the rest of Tampa’s bullpen, and fell to 7-8 against the Rays this season.
The suddenly silent bats went just 1-20 with RISP in the final two games of the series, as they failed to score for Masahiro Tanaka, who turned a rough beginning into a quality start. Looking to rebound after a rough start against the Rangers over the weekend, Tanaka stumbled out of the gate. Mallex Smith led off the game with a single, and scored on a double off the wall by Joey Wendle, who unloaded on a hanging splitter.
The trouble continued after Jake Bauers singled on a grounder with eyes that snuck past Tanaka and Didi Gregorius to put runners on the corners with nobody out. Tommy Pham followed with a double off the left field wall to score Wendle and set up a bizarre sequence where Bauers was caught dead at third, but broke out into a log roll to dodge Andujar’s tag , missing third base entirely. He would be tagged out heading for home, but the craziness allowed Pham to advance to third, where he was stranded after a pair of strikeouts.
Tanaka settled in as the offense tried to solve the Snell puzzle. They threatened in the third when Kyle Higashioka led off with a single. Aaron Hicks worked a one-out walk, but Giancarlo Stanton and Miguel Andujar bounced into a pair of fielder’s choices to squash the potential rally.
It looked like the Rays might start another rally in the top of the fifth after a single by Wendle, but Tanaka executed a perfect pickoff move to nab him off first. He would later conclude his fifth-straight scoreless inning with yet another pickoff, this time getting former teammate Ji-Man Choi at second base, as Tanaka continued to channel his inner Andy Pettitte.
Unfortunately for Tanaka, the offense provided no help as Snell continued to cruise. Only his pitch limit stood in the way of further dominance, as he was pulled after five innings of two-hit, shutout ball. It was Snell’s third start since his return from the DL, and it lowered his ERA to 2.10.
The Rays broke out the small ball in the eighth against David Robertson. Wendle dropped down a bunt to advance Smith from first to second, with the Rays right fielder moving to third after an errant throw from Andujar. Once again, Andujar’s defensive miscue would lead to a run as Bauers followed with a safety squeeze bunt to score Smith.
Weirdness ensued in the bottom of the inning to put the Yankees on the board, as Hicks was involved in a close play at first on what should have been an inning-ending double play. A high throw deflected off Bauer’s glove and allowed Hicks — who dodged a potential injury when his ankle rolled on the side of the bag — to reach base. That gave Stanton an at-bat.
The Yankees designated hitter drove his second hit of the game down the right field line and bounced off the yellow strip on the wall beneath the foul pole, which was ruled a hit, then a home run, then reversed to a hit again. When the unnecessarily long delay finally concluded, Stanton was awarded an RBI double to score Hicks and give the Yankees their first hit with a runner in scoring position since the series opener on Tuesday. They had been 0-15 in the past two games before Stanton’s double.
Kevin Cash went to Sergio Romo to finish the eighth, and the right-hander quickly retired Andujar to strand Stanton. Romo stayed on for the ninth, but ran into trouble courtesy of back-to-back singles by Gregorius and Gleyber Torres, who broke an 0-17 slide with the hit. Bird stepped in two batters later against the lefty Kolarek with the bases loaded after a walk to Neil Walker, but Bird went after the first pitch and fouled out to continue his slide. He went 0-4, and heard plenty of Bronx boos.
Kolarek then struck out Gardner and Romine to squash the bases loaded, no out threat. The Yankees finished the series 3-28 with RISP.
On the positive side for the Yanks, Zach Britton worked a perfect seventh inning after struggling early in his Yankee tenure, while Tommy Kahnle tossed a scoreless frame in his first appearance back from Triple-A.