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Yankees 1, Rays 2: Aaron Judge homered; good news ends there

New York got just one hit outside of their MVP frontrunner and their AL East lead now sits at a mere four games.

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Judge homered and the Yankees’ pitching was pretty good, but the offense was a no-show. Tell me if you’ve seen this movie before.

There were not a lot of good things to say about this New York ballclub heading into Saturday night’s game, and somehow, even with an extremely pessimistic expectation entering play, the Yankees continue to find ways to disappoint and dig themselves a deeper hole. They mustered just one hit outside of Judge in a 2-1 loss that brought the Rays to within four games in the AL East.

The clubhouse morale is shot, and it has to be affecting play at this point in time. There isn’t any other way to put it. The non-Judge hitters can’t buy a run to save their life, and though No. 99 can be as menacing as he wants, if no one else in the lineup steps up to provide a real threat, no one is going to pitch to the man with 52 bombs on the year.

Friday’s final score of 9-0 doesn’t reflect well on the pitching staff, but six of those runs were scored very late off a journeyman who is no longer with the team. As a whole, it is getting frustrating for starters and relievers to put up valiant efforts that ultimately end up useless, as the offense is simply folding in every single inning. Judge’s bomb in the ninth snapped a streak of 21 consecutive scoreless frames dating back to Wednesday in Anaheim. Jarringly, it was the third time since the beginning of August that they’ve been blanked in at least 19 innings in a row.

Corey Kluber took the ball against his old team for the fourth time this season. The general theory is that the more times an offense sees a pitcher, it’s likelier to do damage off him. Familiarity usually favors the hitters, but you would never guess that looking at Kluber and the Yankees’ lineup.

Kluber had a 1.50 ERA in 18 innings against his 2021 club this season; he twirled three quality starts, going six apiece in each of them, and tonight, he delivered his best effort of those four games (and one of his better lines of 2022). The two-time Cy Young Award winner tossed seven frames of stress-free ball, needing only 88 pitches to complete his outing, allowing only a couple of hits and no runs with four punchouts and zero free passes.

Kluber messed around with his arsenal for tonight’s game, as he threw his sinker 42 percent of the time with plenty of success earning 13 called strikes on the pitch. For context, Kluber has thrown his sinker just 26.8 percent of the time over the whole season.

The brutal reality is that looking at the lineup tonight, you can talk all you want about how the team got here, and what was being done during the peak months of the season, but if you remove Judge, the highest OPS on the team for the 2022 campaign is Giancarlo Stanton’s at a now-underwhelming .768 mark. Almost all of that was compiled before the former MVP’s mid-July injury too, as he has been anemic since returning from the IL.

It goes beyond Stanton, too, of course. DJ LeMahieu’s numbers continue to plummet as he barrels through a lingering injury. Josh Donaldson remains massively underwhelming on the offensive side, and for all he’s done well this season, Gleyber Torres’ total production doesn’t indicate much more than a league-average-ish bat, and that’s not cutting it from a bat-first player. Even the promising rookies went hitless in this one, as Oswald Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera took oh-fers.

As The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler noted on Twitter, it’s just all been so bleak — especially over the past month:

The Rays didn’t even do much to deserve this game beyond Kluber’s effort. They scored two runs off Clarke Schmidt in the third that ended up being the difference, which took a friendly bounce off Schmidt’s foot to make it happen. They then completely butchered a baserunning play in the seventh inning, when Taylor Walls doubled off the wall with two runners on, and Francisco Méjia was caught looking at something that no one knows and failed to score from second, somehow getting caught in a rundown.

Schmidt, Lou Trivino, Ron Marinaccio, and Jonathan Loáisiga did yeoman’s work to hold the Rays to two runs on the night, and while that play kept the score close, it wasn’t close enough for a dead-in-the-water offense to even tie it up.

As previously noted, Judge came up to bat in the top of the ninth inning and got one home run closer to history with his 52nd bomb of the year.

That tied Judge’s career-high from his sensational 2017 and actually put him one ahead of Roger Maris’ pace from 1961. It was also his 210th in pinstripes, putting him 12th in Yankees history.

Sadly, the Judge homer came while he was leading off the inning, and it only prevented the shutout before Jason Adam wrapped it up. Tampa secured the 2-1 win and will go for the gut-punch sweep tomorrow afternoon at 1:40pm with Frankie Montas facing opener Shawn Armstrong.

Box Score