The Yankees have had a knack for handling games as they go to the wire recently. Whether they’re tied or down a run or two entering the back end of a game, they’ve often had a rally to push ahead. Today, they weren’t the team with the late rally in their bones.
The Yankee bats struggled to catch up against an early Tampa lead, and after finally evening the score in the top of the sixth inning, things slid immediately back in the Rays’ favor. The real trouble began in the bottom of the sixth, with Jonathon Holder on to replace starter CC Sabathia. Holder got into some trouble by allowing a leadoff single to Avisail Garcia, but then got two quick outs. Garcia attempted to steal second, and Gary Sanchez almost got Holder out of the inning with a laser throw, but DJ LeMahieu was unable to get his glove down in time, and the ball sailed to the outfield. Garcia reached third, and the Rays had a second chance.
The Rays wasted no time making it count, with Guillermo Heredia working a six-pitch walk before Willy Adames bounced a single to bring home the go-ahead run. Ji-Man Choi, former friend turned foe, followed up with another single to plate a second run, and the Rays walked away with a 4-2 lead.
The Yankee offense had nothing else going afterward, but the Rays managed to pile onto their lead. Nestor Cortes had worked a scoreless seventh inning in his Yankees debut, but Austin Meadows led off the eighth with a bullet single to center. Cortes nearly escaped, getting two outs before Choi tagged an infield single back to the mound. That brought up Yandy Diaz, who crushed a 1-2 offering to right-center for a three-run jack. Tampa made that 7-2 score-line hold up, retiring the Bombers in order in the ninth to close things out.
Sabathia kept his team in the game before things got away from the bullpen. He delivered another five-inning performance, but had thrown only 76 pitches in doing so. The Yankees probably preferred to limit Sabathia’s innings by pulling him there, since he had gas left in the tank, or preferred the pen to another round through the lineup. His only mistakes came in the second and third innings, with solo home runs to Garcia and Diaz respectively.
Before the game got out of hand, the Yankees still only found spurts of offense. Gleyber Torres, who got picked off the bases earlier in the game, led off the fifth inning with a single and scored on a hard-hit double from Clint Frazier in the next at-bat. In the sixth, LeMahieu deposited a baseball over the wall in center field for his second home run of the season. Two Yankees got hit by pitches after LeMahieu’s bomb, but a double play and a force out ended the threat.
The opportunity for the Yankees to grab sole possession of first place, even by a narrow margin, passed by tonight. They can still rally for another series victory, however, with Masahiro Tanaka on the mound against reigning Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell. They would’ve had to sweep Tampa on the road to maintain first place regardless, so going for two of three would still be a strong performance in a short road trip. Tune in tomorrow to see if they can pull it off.