Mejía steps up as Rays shut out Yankees

August 16th, 2022

NEW YORK -- On Sunday afternoon, Rays catcher Francisco Mejía was three outs away from catching a perfect game pitched by Drew Rasmussen. On Monday night, Mejía played a nearly perfect game behind the plate.

The Rays’ 26-year-old catcher caught a five-pitcher shutout and made two key defensive plays to keep the Yankees off the board in the fourth inning of Tampa Bay’s 4-0 victory at Yankee Stadium. It was the Rays’ third straight win, and their seventh in the last 11 games, but only their fourth in 11 matchups against the Yankees this season.

“I think it was the preparation,” Mejía said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “With all the meetings that we had before the series and how we prepare, it helped us win this game today.”

Thrust into a more prominent role with All-Star catcher Mike Zunino limited to 31 games and now out for the season, Mejía started his third straight game on Monday night. It was the first time he’d been asked to catch on three consecutive days this season and only the second instance in which the Rays have started any catcher three days in a row in ’22.

Mejía stepped up again, and the Rays won for the 31st time in his 48 starts behind the plate.

“Without a doubt, he's done a tremendous job,” manager Kevin Cash said. “The attention to detail, he's focused inning by inning, talking to [pitching coach Kyle Snyder], talking to the pitchers. They meet every outing before the game and go over a game plan, and I think everybody's really pleased with the way he's sticking to it.”

It helps to catch a bunch of talented arms, of course. Opener Jalen Beeks, bulk-innings lefty Ryan Yarbrough and relievers Ryan Thompson, Brooks Raley and Jason Adam deftly navigated the Yankees’ dangerous (albeit slumping) lineup, combining to allow only seven hits and a walk while striking out 12 in the Rays’ seventh shutout of the season.

“He's commanding the game,” Thompson said of Mejía. “He's doing a lot of things that I think a lot of people miss, a lot of things that a lot of people don't realize that he's doing behind the plate as far as giving the pitchers confidence to throw what they're throwing.”

In the fourth inning, Mejía used his strong arm and sharp instincts to keep the shutout going.

Miguel Andújar led off the fourth with a single and advanced to second when Yarbrough booted Andrew Benintendi’s sacrifice bunt. Mejía then fielded Jose Trevino’s bunt and fired a quick throw to Yandy Díaz, forcing out Andújar at third base.

“Very heads up,” Cash said. “Heads up by Yandy, too.”

The Yankees loaded the bases on Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s single to right field. But when Aaron Hicks tapped a ball back to the mound, Yarbrough teamed up with Mejía to turn an inning-ending, 1-2-3 double play.

“One-run game, just trying to keep the team in it,” said Yarbrough, who retired the final six hitters he faced and earned his first win since last Sept. 24. “Everything worked out pretty well.”

Thompson picked up where Yarbrough left off, working a perfect seventh, then returned to start the eighth. He gave up a leadoff single to Gleyber Torres, bringing Aaron Judge to the plate as the potential go-ahead run. Cash stuck with Thompson against the American League MVP front-runner, with Raley warming for a lefty-lefty matchup against Anthony Rizzo.

Thompson spun two down-and-in sliders to get ahead in the count then went for the strikeout with an 0-2 slider that was just off the plate. Judge slapped the next pitch, another low slider, to shortstop Taylor Walls, who started the crucial 6-4-3 double play.

“I was just trying to get ahead and put him away,” Thompson said. “That 0-2 pitch was really close, but the result ended up being better than if that was on the plate. Can't complain.”

The Rays struck first in the fourth, when David Peralta scored on an Isaac Paredes single after hitting a deep fly ball that turned around Hicks and landed for a triple. They added three valuable insurance runs in the ninth on run-scoring singles by Jose Siri and Díaz.

That gave Adam some breathing room and snapped a streak of nine straight games against the Yankees decided by two runs or fewer.

“Very similar game today,” Cash said. “The add-on runs become crucial because you know, at any moment, they've got a lineup one to nine that can tie a ballgame when it's 1-0.”