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Yankees 2, Rays 4: Squandered opportunities, bullpen meltdown lead to series split

Yankee incompetence with runners in scoring position comes back to haunt them.

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Stranding runners early and often against a great starting pitcher is rarely a recipe for success, so of course the Yankees decided to test that approach today. Predictably, it didn’t work in their favor and they failed to put further distance between themselves and Tampa in the standings, falling 4-2 to split this four-game set.

This one was a pitchers’ duel from the outset, which should not have surprised anyone considering who was on the hill for both clubs. Neither Shane McClanahan nor Luis Severino even deigned to break a sweat in the first inning, with both hurlers going three up, three down.

Gleyber Torres, though, put a dent in the scoreboard leading off the second. Hitting cleanup, Torres smashed an 89-mph slider to left field. 394 feet later, the Yankees were on the board with a 1-0 lead, and Torres had his ninth roundtripper of the campaign.

Miguel Andújar followed that up with a single to right field and advanced to third with one out on a successful hit-and-run when Isiah Kiner-Falefa punched a single to right field. McClanahan though, who came into the start leading the AL in strikeout percentage, punched out Kyle Higashioka swinging and induced a soft ground ball from Joey Gallo to limit the damage. The Yankees’ inability to cash in runners quickly became an unpleasant and recurrent theme.

The Yankee lead did not last long. Ji-Man Choi, the bane of Gerrit Cole’s existence, decided to make Sevy’s life miserable as well. Choi went with a 96-mph fastball on the outside of the plate and drove it into the first row in left field for this fourth dinger of the season. Tie game. Sevy bounced back though and retired the next three Rays in order, capped by a swinging strikeout of Brett Phillips on a 97-mph heater right down the middle.

The Yankees kept the pressure on McClanahan in the third. DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge led off the inning with back-to-back singles to right field to put runners on the corners for the heart of the order. McClanahan responded by punching out Anthony Rizzo and Torres and inducing a ground ball from Andújar. First and third with no one out resulted in nary a run crossed the plate — not exactly a great job executing by Rizzo et al.

McClanahan sent a shot across the Yankees’ bow in the fourth, hinting that their chances to score on him might have come to an end. Though IKF worked a great 10-pitch at-bat that ended with a single, McClanahan flat overpowered everyone else he faced in the frame, striking out the side.

Sevy meanwhile, matched McClanahan out for out. In the third, he struck out Mike Zunino and Kevin Kiermaier. In the fourth, he notched two more Ks, this time on Yandy Díaz and Choi. All told, by the end of the fourth inning, Sevy had retired nine straight Rays.

The Rays managed a second run off Severino in the bottom of the fifth. With one out and ten straight Rays retired, Taylor Walls hit a wall-scraper to right field, putting Tampa up by one and reminding us all of the missed Yankee opportunities in the game’s first few innings.

In the top of the sixth, Torres and Andújar led off with singles, putting runners on first and second for Hicks, who came into the at-bat hitting .115 with runners in scoring position. Hicks scorched a ball to third base, but despite a .570 xBA on the line drive, he had nothing to show for it except a slow walk back to the dugout. And then to put the dagger in the inning, IKF rapped into a 5-4-3 double play. End of the sixth, and the Yankees were 0-for-7 with RISP.

That sixth inning perfectly summarized the effects of the injuries to Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson, and Gallo’s ongoing incompetence at the plate. With runners on in a tight game, instead of a deep Yankees lineup likely to stress McClanahan, the Yankees sent Hicks and IKF to the plate, both sporting an 81 wRC+ coming into the game. Come back to us, Giancarlo. Soon.

Meanwhile, Severino continued to deal until the seventh inning, when he walked Wander Franco and Choi consecutively to put runners on with no one out for Manuel Margot, who entered the game riding a 15-game hitting streak. Sevy bounced back and struck out Margot with a changeup, ending Severino’s night. His final line: 6.1 innings, two hits, two walks, two earned runs, eight K’s, and a season-high 103 pitches, with the two runners on base his responsibility.

Ron Marinaccio was the first man up from the ‘pen for Yankees manager Aaron Boone. He promptly walked Walls, and the Rays had the bases loaded without ever putting a ball in play. It’s not what you want. Marinaccio issued another easy walk to Harold Ramirez, and then plunked Zunino. That made it 4-1, Rays, and the two earned runs on Severino’s ledger became four, obscuring what was a really good start.

Marinaccio recovered to limit the damage, but on a day when the Yankees seemed physically incapable of getting a big hit, a three-run deficit felt like it was completely insurmountable.

And those two runs loomed large, because Aaron Judge greeted Rays reliever Colin Poche with a mammoth 420-foot dinger to center field, making it a 4-2 game. Fallacy of the predetermined outcome, but...

Torres followed that up with a single, his third hit of the game, advanced to second base on a passed ball, and stole third with two out. Alas, there he remained stranded after a great defensive play by Walls to rob Hicks of an RBI single.

And that represented the Yankees’ best chance to come back. In the top of the ninth, IKF, Trevino, and Gallo flew out harmlessly to end the game.

Womp womp. Oh well. It could have been worse. The Yankees wrapped up an arduous stretch of baseball by splitting four games at the Trop against a really good team. Next up: a very well deserved day off. They’ll return to action at home against the Angels on Tuesday at 7:05pm with Jordan Montgomery set to pitch.

Box Score