The Yankees came into this game, on May 5 2023, nine full games back of Tampa in the AL East. They could go 9-4 against the Rays this season and that would still leave them four games back. Saying each game versus Tampa is must-win is not a stretch if the Yankees entertain hopes of claiming the AL East crown.
After falling behind early, Harrison Bader provided the big blast to bring the Yankees back. But a disastrous sequence in left field allowed the winning run to score, dropping the Yankees to 10 games back of Tampa. Once more: It is May 5th and the division favorite Yankees are double-digit games behind the Rays and barely staying afloat with many of their best players on the IL. As Yogi Berra once said, “It gets late early out there.”
The Rays jumped out to the lead early and considering their 21-0 record in 2023 when scoring first, that’s not what you want. With two outs in the first, Brito left a pitch over the heart of the plate to Randy Arozarena and the Rays slugger made him pay for the mistake. The ball soared 422 feet to right center, a ball that would have been a dinger in all 30 MLB parks.
New York managed a baserunner in the second when DJ LeMahieu drew a walk. An Anthony Rizzo groundout moved DJLM to second, but there he stayed, after Harrison Bader flew out harmlessly to center field and Jake Bauers ripped a 113.5-mph laser … directly at the Rays right fielder. For those following Statcast, that was an .840 xBA with absolutely nothing to show for it.
Brito quickly found himself behind the eight-ball in the second. After getting ahead of Isaac Paredes, Brito bailed him out and walked him. Taylor Wells then took advantage of the hole on the right side of the infield with a single, putting two on with no one out. After Paredes advanced to third, Jose Siri brought him in to score on a sac fly to right. That made it 2-0, Rays, after two.
Brito continued to struggle in the third. After getting ahead of Yandy Díaz, Brito unleashed an all-time awful 0-2 pitch that the Rays’ leadoff man deposited over the center field fence.
Wander Franco followed that with a ground-rule double to left, Brito plunked Arozarena, and Tampa was set up for the big inning. After Díaz advanced to third on a fly ball to Oswaldo Cabrera in right—the Rays did not hesitate at all to run on his arm—he came in to score on a Harold Ramírez groundball. It was 4-0 Tampa, and it felt like this one was over early.
The Yankees finally looked like they might put something in the run column in the fourth. With two out in the frame, LeMahieu singled, New York’s first hit of the night. Willie Calhoun followed with a walk, and Bader blooped a ball to shallow right field. But Josh Lowe made the sliding catch, because of course he did. I’m really starting to wonder how exactly this team so angered the baseball gods this season.
The bottom of the fifth got weird. Albert Abreu relieved Brito. Franco led off the frame and on a 2-2 count, got punched out for not being ready with eight seconds left on the pitch clock. Up next, Abreu hit Arozarena, the second time a Yankee pitcher hit him. The umpires met and decided to issue a warning to both benches. Rays manager Kevin Cash then came out to argue and got himself tossed for his efforts.
New York finally broke through in the sixth. After Volpe drove a ball 375 feet to the wrong part of the Trop for the first out, Rizzo ripped a ball through the right side of the infield. Up next, Torres knocked one into left center. Siri took an atrocious route to the ball, which got by him and went all the way to the wall. Rizzo and his fifth percentile sprint speed chugged around the bases and scored, with Torres stopping at second.
LeMahieu drew his second walk of the game, the third time LeMachine reached base. That spelled the end of the road for Chirinos, who left after 5.1 innings, with one run in, and the two men on base his responsibility.
Bader made sure Chirinos took those on his ledger. On a 2-1 count, he turned on a fastball middle-in and deposited it in the left field bleachers. Four-hundred thirty-six feet later, it was a brand-new ballgame. Unsurprisingly, that bomb was a home run in every MLB ballpark.
In the seventh, New York missed a chance to take the lead. After a two-out Volpe single, the rookie stole second and advanced to third on a terrible throw. The stolen base was Volpe’s 11th of the season in 11 tries. Alas, Rizzo struck out swinging, stranding Volpe 90 at third, and keeping the contest knotted.
Tampa immediately made New York pay. With Díaz on first for the Rays, Bauers got turned around on a fly ball off Franco’s bat then booted the ball. It was as ugly a play as it sounds:
Franco ended up at second and Díaz scored on the play, despite a great relay from Volpe. It was close enough that Díaz was originally called out, but safe after replay review.
Michael King entered and escaped with no further damage. But that begs its own question. If Boone was going to use King in that inning, why not just start the frame with King? It felt like Boone was trying to win at the margins, stealing as many outs as he could from the lesser arms in the pen.
The bats failed to capitalize on a golden opportunity in the eighth. After LeMahieu’s second hit, Boone sent Kyle Higashioka up to pinch-hit for Willie Calhoun. Higgy immediately paid dividends on the surprising move, ripping a double to left that put runners on second and third. Unfortunately, Bader worked underneath a breaking ball, resulting in a weak infield popup.
At that point, Boone decided to double down on his unlikely pinch-hit efforts and sent Isiah Kiner-Falefa—he of the 22 wRC+ in 2023—up to pinch-hit for Bauer. Kiner-Falefa worked Colin Poche for nine pitches before fanning to end the threat.
That was as close as the Yanks got. Volpe singled in the ninth but Rizzo flew out to center to end the contest. The Yankees remain in last place and are in now, in fact, multiple games behind the Blue Jays and Red Sox in the AL East for even fourth. It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.
For better or for worse, The Yankees are back at it tomorrow at the trop. First pitch is at 4:10 pm Eastern. Domingo Germán faces Drew Rasmussen. Again, it’s getting late early in the AL East. Time to win some of these games against Tampa.