The Yankees entered this series knowing it was their last chance to hold off the Rays by their own play, otherwise they’d be welcoming a neck-and-neck race for a division title that they had under lock and chain since early June. Despite this, they kicked off the first game with a stagnant offensive showing again and couldn’t prevent Tampa from finding one big inning to blow the game wide open.
The Rays jumped out to an immediate 1-0 lead in the first, aided by the return of their shortstop Wander Franco. Franco doubled on the first pitch he saw from Frankie Montas, who was not as sharp as he was the last time he faced this lineup, and scored when Randy Arozarena followed him with a double of his own. Montas settled down for the second and third innings, stranding a few baserunners, but ran into a jam in the fourth.
Ji-Man Choi worked a one-out walk to kickstart the offense, and Yandy Diaz found a two-out single to keep it alive. Then it was Franco again, this time doubling out to left field and scoring both runners. Arozarena stepped up and repeated the process that netted them a run in the first inning, doubling home Franco and giving the Rays a 4-0 lead. Montas lasted into the sixth inning, but his line wasn’t very appealing: 5.2 innings of nine-hit ball and four runs on four walks and four strikeouts. He didn’t allow the home run ball that had plagued him since the trade from Oakland, but he still couldn’t prevent hard contact from repeatedly occurring.
The Yankee offense, meanwhile, was missing in action once again. Kyle Higashioka and Aaron Judge hit a pair of singles in the third inning (the latter of which was originally ruled a catch before a challenge showed that the ball was trapped) to put a runner in scoring position, but nothing came of it. They wouldn’t see another opportunity with a runner at second until the sixth, when Gleyber Torres and Isiah Kiner-Falefa got on base with one out. Miguel Andújar struck out on three pitches, and Giancarlo Stanton pinch-hit for Oswaldo Cabrera but only managed to sharply ground out to second.
Judge finally broke the shutout in the seventh inning, though he couldn’t do so with a home run. Instead, he singled to left with two outs, allowing Oswald Peraza to book it for home — and initially get called out. The Yankees challenged again and won again, managing to find that Peraza had avoided the tag from Christian Bethancourt and slide in for their first run. Nothing more came from that, and the eighth went by without incident as well.
In the ninth, Higashioka made things interesting by blasting a solo shot to left field. Now only down a pair of runs, Aaron Judge worked the count full and earned a two-out walk to bring the tying run to the plate. Torres tried for the game-tying shot, but his fly ball to right died at the warning track and the Rays won, 4-2.
The AL East lead is now just 3.5 games, and most importantly the lead in the loss column is a mere two games. Given the way that this matchup has played out recently, if the Rays manage to sweep the Yankees they will be tied in losses with a trio of wins to make up before completely negating New York’s double-digit lead earlier in the year. The Yankees have to win at least one to prevent doomsday, and though they’ve been able to do that and not much more for the past month, there’s not a lot of confidence that they can do it again this time. They’ll try again tomorrow afternoon with Jameson Taillon on the hill going up against former teammate Corey Kluber.