The Yankees made this game hard on themselves by not scoring in innings two through eight. The pitching, for the most part, did everything that could be asked. But on a night when Boston and Toronto both won (Seattle’s result won’t be known until later), the power outage for the majority of the game doomed the Bombers. As such, the Yankees did not reduce the Magic Number, the pressure on New York continues to build as the Rays continue to love nothing more than to kill the Yankees’ playoff chances.
The Rays jumped out to an early lead in this one. After Nasty Néstor Cortes Jr. struck out AL Rookie of the Year candidate Randy Arozarena and induced a weak fly ball from wunderkind Wander Franco, the ageless Nelson Cruz deposited a Cortes offering in the left-field seats. The score was 1-0 before many fans got through the concessions line.
Gleyber Torres did his part to get the Yankees back to par in a rare leadoff start. He ripped a fastball into the left field corner for a leadoff two-bagger. Table? Set. Big boppers? Looming. Rays starter Shane McClanahan successfully navigated Anthony Rizzo and Aaron Judge to get the first two outs. But Giancarlo Stanton came through (as usual) and ripped a 112-mph single to right field, scoring Torres and putting the game back on an even footing.
The top of the second featured more of the same, unfortunately, as the Rays retook the lead. A pair of one-out singles sandwiched a web gem from Joey Gallo that prevented the inning being even worse. With two away, though, Kevin Kiermaier blooped a single into shallow left field that scored the Rays’ second run of the game. Gallo made his second great defensive play of the inning to nail Francisco Mejía at third for the final out. Damage done, however.
After the second inning, the game settled into an uneventful rhythm, one highlighted by Rays and Yankees pitching mowing down batters, and Hall of Famer and GOAT closer Mariano Rivera joining Michael Kay and Ken Singleton in the YES booth for multiple innings.
The Rays went to the bullpen to kick off the bottom of the fourth inning. Righty Pete Fairbanks relieved McClanahan after the latter tossed three innings of one-run ball. Other than an infield single by Gio Urshela, the Rays reliever cruised through the inning. Cortes looked to likewise be sailing in the top of the fifth. But with two out, he surrendered a triple to Kiermaier, who was building a resume for biggest pain in the rear in this game.
Aaron Boone then decided it was time for a change. On came Clay Holmes in relief of The Nasty One. Holmes repaid his skipper’s faith and struck Arozarena out looking to keep the game 2-1. The Yankees meekly went down in the fifth inning again, however, and suddenly Stanton’s 112-mph RBI single earlier looked like it happed a lifetime ago. Through five, the data backed that up, with the Yankees’ balls in play to that point featuring a .185 xBA. It’s not what you want.
With two out in the top of the sixth and a man on following a Holmes walk, Boone traipsed out to the mound again. This time, the task of holding the Rays down fell to Wandy Peralta. He too made Boone look like a genius, by striking out Ji-Man Choi to send the game to the bottom of the stanza.
Judge came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth and blooped a ball into shallow right field. No exit velo records on that one but it gave the Yankees a baserunner and prompted a “Let’s Go Yankees” chant from a crowd that had been almost catatonic for the previous innings. Alas, it was for naught. A Stanton strikeout and a Gallo rocket to right field later... off to the seventh with the Yankees trailing 2-1.
The top of the seventh started innocently enough as Peralta recorded two quick outs. Unfortunately, those were followed by a single and a HBP. To the bullpen! To escape this jam, with two on and Arozarena looming, Boone called on recently-returned Jonathan Loáisiga.
Just to make things more tense, I’m sure, Johnny Lasagna walked Arozarena to load the bases for the phenom Wander Franco. Not tense at all. What followed was a heck of an at-bat from Franco, but on the 8th pitch of the at-bat, on a 2-2 count, Franco could not get his bat on a 100-mph sinker painted down and away. Crisis averted.
The top of the eighth inning saw the return of a familiar face. Domingo Germán took the mound for the Yankees for the first time since July 31st. The choice to insert him into a high leverage situation in a nigh-on-must-win game for his first appearance in two-plus months was a curious one by Boone, but it worked. It got a bit squirrely for a bit. In the end, Germán stranded the one runner he allowed, with swinging strikeouts of Choi and Margot.
Germán came back out for the ninth and after getting one out, proceeded to walk back-to-back Rays. Boone summoned ... Albert Abreu to face the top of the Rays order in a virtual must-win game. Considering first eight innings of this game, another run heralded doom. Abreu, who has admittedly been pretty good, is an interesting decision with Aroldis Chapman and Chad Green still in the bullpen. Hopefully, someone will get an answer* from Boone on the thought process there.
Update: Not much of an answer.
Of course, the Rays made the Yankees pay. Wander Franco, with runners on second and third and two out, knocked a full count offering up the middle for a two-run single. 4-1 Rays.
In the bottom of the ninth, though, the Yankees came alive. After an Aaron Judge groundout, Stanton ripped a ball into left center and took second on a wild throw back into the infield. He promptly took third base after the Rays put four fielders in the outfield. With the Rays in an extreme shift, Gallo promptly bunted Stanton in to make it 4-2. Gio followed that with a single. Two on. One out. Energy in the Stadium.
Gritty Gutty Brett Gardner continued his torrid second half with an RBI single to score Gallo. 4-3 Rays and further build the electricity in Yankee Stadium.
Gary Sánchez then strode to the dish as a pinch-hitter, but he struck out on three pitches, leaving the game in the hands of Rougned Odor. Unfortunately, he too went down on strikes. And the fact he hit in that spot bodes ill for the health of DJ LeMahieu, who was unavailable; 4-3, Rays final. The comeback comes up short. Now all Yankees fans can do tonight is root against the Mariners.
Tune in tomorrow at 1:05 pm EDT for game two in the Bronx. Jordan Montgomery takes the hill for the Yankees, facing Shane Baz.