The Yankees couldn’t figure out the Rays at all in 2020, and they started 2021 in a similar fashion. Tampa Bay pounced on the Yankees’ pitching all afternoon, becoming the first opponent to put up double digits against them this season and claiming the first game of the series 10-5.
Corey Kluber had the ball to start this game, but he wouldn’t hold onto it for long. Trouble began in the second inning, when DJ LeMahieu committed a throwing error at third that allowed Yandy Diaz to reach. Joey Wendle then hit a ground ball past Tyler Wade at second, which was ruled a single, and Willy Adames drove a double to score one. Brett Phillips lifted a fly ball out to center field that could’ve been the third out, but thanks to the error it became a sacrifice fly that scored a second run instead.
LeMahieu was only at third in the first place because Gio Urshela was a late scratch due to side effects from taking the COVID vaccine, moving LeMahieu over and putting Wade in the game. Aaron Judge was also out of the game continuing to deal with “left side soreness,” meaning Mike Tauchman would get the start in left and Frazier would be in right field. All of these defensive changes played a part in getting the Rays additional runs.
Despite the rough start, the Yankees briefly managed to take the lead. Wade incited a two-out rally in the top of the third, beating out an infield single before LeMahieu hit a ground-rule double over the center field wall. Giancarlo Stanton continued the rally by slapping a single to right that tied the game, and then Aaron Hicks drove a ball out to left-center for a two-run shot. Suddenly, the Yanks were up 4-2.
The lead disappeared as quick as it arrived. Yoshi Tsutsugo led off the bottom of the third with a rocket single out to right field, Austin Meadows worked a walk, and Randy Arozarena punched a ball out to right to score a run. It’s possible that had Judge been out in right field instead of Frazier, Tsutsugo’s ball could’ve been playable, but the shorter Frazier had no chance at it. Arozarena then stole second to eliminate the possibility of a double-play, and Diaz walked to load the bases. Kluber’s day ended here, and while the defense may have let him down at times, it wasn’t a good outing from him.
Nick Nelson came in to attempt to put out the fire, but he only fed it. Nelson allowed a double to Wendle that scored two of Kluber’s baserunners before the inning ended, and the Rays went right back to work in the fourth. Mike Zunino was hit by a pitch and Tsutsugo walked, followed by a Meadows single to load the bases. Nelson managed to strike out Arozarena, but Brandon Lowe lined a double out to center that cleared the bases. Diaz singled to right immediately after to score Lowe, and the Rays were in the driver’s seat for the rest of the game.
There were a couple of additional garbage time runs to mention. Lucas Luetge handled the role of eating innings in this outing, going three strong, but he did allow a leadoff solo shot to Adames in the seventh. An inning later, LeMahieu drove a ball out to left for a solo home run of his own, the only other bit of damage the team managed to create outside of their big third inning.
The Yankees and Rays will be back at it tomorrow, with Domingo Germán and Chris Archer toeing the rubber. First pitch will be at 1:10 p.m. EST.