Yankee Stadium had been a safe haven for the Yankees over the past three seasons — the team hadn’t been swept at home since August 2017 and had won 66.8 percent of games played in the Bronx over that span. They hadn’t even lost once at home in 2020 before this week.
Then the Tampa Bay Rays rolled into town. The Rays came out and took three straight games from the Yankees on their home turf, stealing first place in the AL East. Thursday’s 10-5 loss played out like many a Yankees-Rays game before: Tampa’s pitching was sharp, their offense was opportunistic, and the Yankees stranded too many baserunners to win the game.
The Yankees did get off to a fast start, at least. In a lineup that has been quiet since the losses of Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton, Luke Voit has been the one silver lining. He came into the game with four home runs in his last three games, and it didn’t take him long to extend that streak to four straight games with a dinger. Voit jumped on a 2-2 heater that John Curtiss inexplicably left directly over the middle of the plate and deposited it 437 feet away into Monument Park.
Curtiss allowed one run and four baserunners and was removed after just 1.1 innings, giving way to Trevor Richards, the bulk reliever in the bullpen game. He bailed Curtiss out in the second, but the Yankees struck again in the third inning. After Mike Tauchman singled and Gio Urshela doubled, Gleyber Torres plated a run on an RBI groundout, allowing Tauchman to score. However, Torres left the game after stumbling on his way to first with what appeared to be a lower-body injury, leaving his future status unknown. It could very well be another player to the IL for the Yankees.
Meanwhile, James Paxton was dealing on the mound for the Bombers. The Rays were hitless through four innings, and Paxton mixed and matched his way to seven strikeouts and no runs over his first 4.1 innings. He only averaged 91 mph on his fastball and maxed out at 93 mph, but he showed off an improved changeup and good sequencing with his curveball and cutter that kept the Rays off-balance again.
Unfortunately, that all changed in the fifth inning. Paxton lost the zone, walking two straight Rays, and they both scored on a Joey Wendle RBI double, tying the game at 2-2. Wendle advanced to third, and Paxton followed that up by walking his third batter of the inning, putting runners at the corners with one out. Paxton then got Michael Brosseau to fly out, but Wendle scored on the sac fly, and the Yankees were suddenly losing 3-2. After cruising through the first four frames, Paxton ran into that one big inning in the fifth, spoiling what had been an encouraging start. Still, his final line wasn’t terrible.
Fortunately, the Yankees got the lead right back in the next inning. Voit smacked a hard-hit single, and Urshela took Diego Castillo deep to left field, staying inside and hooking a two-run home run into the vacant seats. Urshela had been quiet over his last few games, but broke out with two extra-base hits on Thursday.
It wasn’t meant to be, however. Adam Ottavino let the first two baserunners reach in the sixth, got the next two batters out, but neither he nor Luis Avilán could get that elusive final out. The hits came soft (Manuel Margot’s game-tying single), hard (Wendle’s RBI single off the wall) and loud (Mike Zunino’s three-run home run), and it was 8-4 Rays in the blink of an eye. Ottavino and Avilán combined to allow six baserunners and the Rays batted around to take a commanding lead.
The Yankees got a run back in the sixth on a Voit (who else?) RBI single, but drew no closer in what became a 10-5 loss. The Yankees went just 1-8 with runners in scoring position on Thursday and 1-21 with RISP in the series, which is not acceptable vs. a division rival. They’re only 1-6 against Tampa Bay this year, and something will have to change the next time they play them from Aug. 31-Sept. 2.
The Yankees were scheduled to play the first Subway Series of the regular season at Citi Field, but that is unlikely after a COVID-19 case appeared in the Mets camp. We’ll have to wait and see what will happen to this weekend’s games, but for now they’ll sit tight for another day.