ST. PETERSBURG -- The thunderous crack of Luke Voit's ninth-inning cut reverberated through the mostly empty grandstands of Tropicana Field, and the young slugger briefly popped into his home run trot, believing that he had caught enough of Sergio Romo's sinker to complete the Yankees' valiant comeback.Aaron Judge took it
ST. PETERSBURG -- The thunderous crack of Luke Voit's ninth-inning cut reverberated through the mostly empty grandstands of Tropicana Field, and the young slugger briefly popped into his home run trot, believing that he had caught enough of Sergio Romo's sinker to complete the Yankees' valiant comeback.
Aaron Judge took it a step further, wondering if the ball would strike one of the flags that is affixed to the roof. Voit was stunned when the drive fell short, tangled in Mallex Smith's leaping attempt, and the Yankees wore surprised expressions when their furious rally fell short in an 8-7 loss to the Rays on Wednesday evening.
"We were able to string a couple of hits together and some quality at-bats," Judge said. "We came up one run short, but I'm proud of the way the guys were fighting. That's what it's all about. Games like that will help us down the stretch and in the postseason."
Romo got Tyler Wade and Miguel Andujar to pop out, ending the four-run ninth inning. New York's magic number to secure home-field advantage for the American League Wild Card Game remained at two after the Athletics defeated the Mariners. The Yankees own a 1 1/2-game edge over the A's and also hold the tiebreaker.
"I hit it pretty good. That was the longest single of my life," Voit said. "Credit to [Smith]; that was a pretty amazing play."
Yankees manager Aaron Boone has said that he has "no idea" who will start that Oct. 3 playoff contest, with the club believed to be deciding among Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and Luis Severino. Tanaka did not raise his stock as he quickly gave back the gains from Neil Walker's first-inning, three-run homer.
"That was the inning I definitely needed to do a better job," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "The reason for it just comes down to the mechanics. I was a little off on the mechanics and wasn't able to locate my pitches the way I wanted to."
The first three men Tanaka faced reached base, with Joey Wendle cracking a run-scoring single to center field. After a strikeout, Tanaka pounced off the mound to snatch a soft comebacker, whirled and fired errantly into center field, a rare miscue for a pitcher who is perennially one of the better fielders on the Yankees' staff. That play left shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria sprawled on the infield dirt, permitting Matt Duffy to score.
After committing his second career error and first since June 2016, Tanaka hit Kevin Kiermaier, who exited the game three innings later with a hairline fracture of his right foot. Tanaka then allowed a game-tying infield single to Willy Adames. Tommy Pham hit a third-inning homer to straightaway center off Tanaka, who allowed four runs (three earned) and six hits over four-plus innings.
"Uncharacteristic," Boone said. "He walked a guy and hit a guy [in the first]. For a guy that fields his position as well as he does, too, kind of over-aggressive trying to make a play. He certainly wasn't sharp in that first inning, but if we play a little cleaner, then we can limit the damage there."
Walker put the Yankees on the board with his 11th homer, a blast to center field off "opener" Ryne Stanek, but Rays manager Kevin Cash continued spinning his bullpen wheel. Yonny Chirinos, who tossed four scoreless innings, pinned two men on in the third, then got Giancarlo Stanton to bounce into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the fifth.
"Yonny is gaining some invaluable experience, especially in this atmosphere," Cash said. "Those guys are certainly playing for a lot with the home-field advantage. I like the way we've played."
Tampa Bay padded its advantage with four runs in the eighth, highlighted by C.J. Cron's loud RBI double off Player Page for David Robertson (in his 500th Yankees appearance) and a wild Justus Sheffield pickoff throw that allowed Jake Bauers to score the final Rays run. Walker exited with a left shin contusion following an eighth-inning hit-by-pitch; X-rays were negative and he is day to day.
"Just couldn't finish it off," Boone said.
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Walker's homer was the Yankees' 256th of the season, the fifth-highest total in Major League history. They have four games remaining to equal the 1997 Mariners, who hold the all-time mark with 264 homers. The other clubs are the 2005 Rangers (260), 2010 Blue Jays (257) and 1996 Orioles (257).
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Voit's ninth-inning blast rocketed off his bat at 110.2 mph and carried an expected hit probability of 100 percent, though Voit had to scramble back to first base after getting a late start out of the batter's box. It was the second-hardest-hit ball that Voit has connected with as a Yankee, behind a two-run double off the Blue Jays' Marco Estrada (112.3 mph) on Sept. 14.
"I blame myself because I should have been on second," Voit said. "It was kind of a weird play because you couldn't really tell if he caught it or not. I blame myself for that, and we made some fundamental mistakes in that top of the ninth inning with some weird plays they had. That's baseball."
The Yankees will conclude their four-game series against the Rays on Thursday at Tropicana Field, as left-hander Carsten Sabathia makes his 29th start of the season. Sabathia is coming off a victory over the Orioles in which he completed six innings for the first time since Aug. 29. Jaime Schultz will start for the Rays. First pitch is set for 1:10 p.m. ET.
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.