Back at Tropicana Field after a successful road trip to Anaheim and Oakland, the Rays’ 3-1 loss to the Yankees on Tuesday night looked more like a game ripped from their most recent homestand.
Hits were hard to come by, as they managed only three on the night and recorded their Major League-leading 25th double-digit strikeout game. Hits with runners in scoring position were in even shorter supply, with Tampa Bay going 0-for-5 in those situations in the series opener. But their pitching was good enough to keep it close, even as they fell to 10-10 in games decided by two runs or fewer this season.
“They pitched well, and we just couldn't get anything going,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
On nights like that, every moment matters. Here were five that stood out the most as the Rays fell to 19-18 on the year.
1. Passed balls add up
New York struck first, as Aaron Judge took starter Luis Patiño out to center field with two outs in the first inning, and the Yankees put runners on first and second with one out in the third inning.
After a mound visit from pitching coach Kyle Snyder, Patiño threw a two-seamer that seemed to surprise the sure-handed Mike Zunino as it ran in on Judge. The ball bounced off his glove and into the Yankees' dugout, allowing both runners to advance. One pitch later, Patiño snapped off a slider that ran away from Zunino and bounced to the backstop, allowing DJ LeMahieu to score and giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
“He's got electric stuff, and some of them catch a little bit more than others,” Zunino said. “I just underplayed it a little bit.”
2. Zunino’s titanic blast
Left-hander Jordan Montgomery and the Yankees' bullpen kept the Rays’ bats quiet, with one very loud exception.
Zunino led off the third inning by crushing a 472-foot home run off Montgomery, Tampa Bay’s second-longest home run tracked by Statcast and tied for the fourth-longest blast in Tropicana Field history. He said he was simply looking for a pitch up from Montgomery with the count full. He got a sinker up just high enough, and he did not miss it.
“I was actually in the cage hitting, getting ready for my next at-bat, but I could hear it. So it was loud,” Rays designated hitter Austin Meadows said. “That ball was absolutely murdered. That's one of the farther ones I've seen here.”
In fact, it was the longest home run tracked by Statcast at Tropicana Field and only six feet shy of the ballpark-record blast Vinny Castilla hit on April 4, 2001. Zunino remains a bright spot for Tampa Bay’s inconsistent offense, as he’s tied with Meadows for the team lead with seven homers and leads the club with an .813 OPS.
“I knew I hit it well,” Zunino said. “I didn't know how far it went, so it's pretty cool to hear.”
3. Zunino’s near miss
That was the extent of the Rays’ offense on Tuesday. They hit better on their recent road trip, averaging 4.86 runs per game as they went 5-2 against the Angels and A’s, but they’ve had their issues at the Trop this season.
The Rays are hitting just .205 overall and .139 with runners in scoring position in 18 home games, compared to .231 and .249 on the road. Montgomery didn’t present many opportunities for Tampa Bay to rally, either, striking out nine in six innings.
Zunino just missed a first-pitch changeup to begin the fifth inning, sending what he’d hoped to be a game-tying homer a few feet shy of the track in left field for the first out.
“I felt off the bat I hit it too high, just enough to get under that changeup there,” he said. “But you know, who knows? ... We were sitting on it, felt like I had a good pass at it -- just too high.”
4. Another homer
Patiño exited after four innings without allowing another run. The Yankees added to their lead in the seventh, however, when Gary Sánchez clubbed a low-and-away sinker from lefty Josh Fleming out to right field. It was Fleming’s only blemish on the night, as he and Patiño combined to allow three runs on six hits in eight innings.
“All of the pitchers threw the ball well, kept us in the ballgame,” Cash said. “[Patiño] limited damage really, really well. For a young pitcher not to allow it to snowball is really encouraging, and I think you can say the same thing about Flem.”
5. A convenient carom
The Rays still had a chance in the ninth. Meadows reached on an error by Gleyber Torres to begin the inning and took off for second base when Aroldis Chapman’s 1-0 fastball to Yandy Díaz sailed by Sánchez. But the ball ricocheted right back to Sánchez before he unleashed an 83.9 mph throw to Tyler Wade, who tagged the sliding Meadows in time.
Díaz walked, but pinch-hitter Kevan Smith lined out and Brandon Lowe went down swinging to end the game. Meadows felt he made the right play, calling the bounce off the backstop “definitely unlucky,” and his manager agreed.
“You don't see that happen very often. I don't think there's any fault to Austin,” Cash added. “It is one of those quirky plays. It just didn't go in our favor tonight.”