Well that was frustrating. The Yankees squandered a 3-0 lead, as well as a mostly brilliant outing from James Paxton, to drop the final game of a four-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays in walk-off fashion.
With runners on second and third and two outs, Rays catcher Michael Perez, who entered the game as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning, lined a single to right off Zack Britton, allowing Brandon Lowe to coast home as the winning run.
The 4-3 final was New York’s third loss in four games against their division foes, who, despite their slow start, are widely considered to be the Yankees’ chief rivals for the AL East crown. The Yankees are still perched atop the division at 10-6, but the Rays pulled themselves to within two games, at 8-8.
The day started off much more promising. Paxton, whose first two starts of this abnormal season were simply awful, gave the Yankees much-needed hope that he could rediscover his dominant late-2019 form. The Canadian southpaw appeared determined to establish his fastball early on, and he did, throwing 30 heaters out of his first 39 pitches. While not reaching last year’s average velocity of 95.5 mph, Paxton’s fastball showed noticeably more life, consistently hitting 92-93 mph and on a couple of occasions touching 94.
Beginning in the fourth, the lefty began mixing in his curveball and changeup to great effect; he sparkled through six shutout innings, allowing just three base runners (a single, walk, and hit batter) while striking out 11.
The wheels came off in the seventh, and it’s fair to wonder whether Aaron Boone pushed Paxton a bit too far considering how short his first two outings were (he pitched a total of just four innings in those). Jose Martinez led off the frame with a ringing double to right-center and two batters later, Mike Brosseau crushed an inside fastball into the left field seats to pull the Rays to within 3-2. Brandon Lowe followed up with a solo shot to right to tie the game, ending Paxton’s day.
Jonathan Holder came on in relief, securing the final two outs of the seventh and wiggling out of an eighth-inning, bases-loaded jam to keep the game tied. Britton, hoping to send the game into extras, was in trouble immediately, surrendering a leadoff double to Brosseau, but he nearly got out of it thanks to a heads-up defensive play by shortstop Gleyber Torres.
Lowe, after a failed bunt attempt, hit a ground ball up the middle, which hit the mound and gave the shifted Torres a high hop. Without hesitation, Gleyber gunned down the advancing Brosseau at third, giving the Yankees hope that they’d survive into the tenth. But a wild pitch sent Lowe to third and Manuel Margot worked a walk. Both advanced 90 feet on a Willy Adames groundout to first, setting the scene for Perez’s two-out walk-off hit.
Offensively, the Yankees didn’t generate much. They scored their first run in the opening frame when Rays starter Charlie Morton, who would leave the game with right shoulder inflammation in the third, hit Mike Ford with the bases loaded. They scored two more in the fifth when, with runners on second and third, Gio Urshela hit a drive to center that Margot dropped.
After a day off Monday, the Yankees will return to the Bronx to begin a brief two-game set against the Atlanta Braves. Let’s hope that goes better.