Fairbanks exits in 10th as Rays fall to Yanks

July 29th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- Extra innings have been unkind to the Rays this season, perhaps none more so than the 10th inning of their 3-1 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field.

In the span of eight batters, the Rays saw high-leverage reliever exit the game with a right shoulder injury, came out on the wrong end of two tough defensive plays and stranded two runners in scoring position against Aroldis Chapman before walking off the field with their third straight loss.

Wednesday’s defeat dropped the Rays’ record in extra-inning games this season to 5-10 and left them 2 1/2 games behind the American League East-leading Red Sox heading into Thursday afternoon’s showdown with Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. The final frame was an aggravating ending to a game in which the Rays managed only three hits and two walks, struck out 11 times and went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position.

“It seems like we haven’t been able to get that big hit, but we were trying to keep that energy up,” catcher Francisco Mejía said. “It’s part of the game, and hopefully we come back tomorrow with better energy.”

Rays right-hander put together one of his best starts of the season, striking out a season-high-tying nine batters while allowing three hits and a walk in five innings. As Tampa Bay monitors the market for starting pitchers before Friday’s 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline, Wacha kept the Yankees off-balance with high fastballs and changeups, throwing 54 of his 79 pitches for strikes while recording 14 swinging strikes, including seven on changeups and six on four-seam fastballs.

“He just did a tremendous job of navigating through that lineup,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Even when there were some guys on base, he made big pitch after big pitch. Just a great sign for us and him.”

But Yankees lefty Nestor Cortes was just as effective, holding the Rays to one run over five innings. New York’s bullpen was even stingier, producing five hitless innings from Lucas Luetge, Zack Britton, Chad Green and Chapman.

The rivals’ pitching duel sent the game to extras, and the Rays sent Fairbanks to the mound. Nearing the end of a dominant month in which he allowed just one run in his first nine appearances, he hit Greg Allen with a two-strike breaking ball to put two runners on base for Aaron Judge.

The Yankees slugger swatted a ground ball up the middle, but it bounced off the tip of shortstop Wander Franco’s glove and into center field for an RBI single. Franco said it was a “pretty tough” play, so his goal was to at least knock the ball down in front of him. Cash said it was a “really tough” play and credited Franco for approaching it the right way, even though it got by him.

“It just was barely out of his reach,” Cash said. “I don't know what he's supposed to do. He doesn't have ‘Go Go Gadget’ arms. I wish he did on that play.”

With the Yankees up by one and runners on the corners, pitching coach Kyle Snyder emerged from the dugout for a mound visit. At that point, Cash said, Fairbanks informed Snyder that his shoulder didn’t feel right -- a bit of a surprise considering the right-hander was pitching with his usual upper-90s fastball velocity. Snyder called for Cash and athletic trainer Mark Vinson, and Fairbanks exited the game without attempting to throw a warmup pitch.

The Rays announced after the game that Fairbanks exited due to right shoulder inflammation and would be further evaluated Thursday morning. It’s too early to guess how severe the issue is, but losing Fairbanks would be another tough blow to a Tampa Bay bullpen that’s already without many of its top options.

High-leverage reliever Nick Anderson, out all season due to an elbow injury, is in the early stages of a Minor League rehab assignment. Right-handers J.P. Feyereisen (shoulder), Collin McHugh (arm fatigue) and Ryan Thompson (shoulder) are all on the 10-day injured list without a set return date. All 13 Rays players currently on the IL, in fact, are pitchers.

All-Star reliever Andrew Kittredge, thrust into the game with two runners on and nobody out, allowed another run to score on a wild pitch before getting out of the inning with Tampa Bay trailing by two.

“It was a pitch inside. It was just a ball that got spiked,” Mejía said of the wild pitch through interpreter Manny Navarro. “I was trying to get in front of it the best I could, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to.”

Still, the Rays -- authors of 30 come-from-behind wins this season -- had a chance in the bottom of the 10th.

Randy Arozarena walked against Chapman with one out, bringing up pinch-hitter Nelson Cruz, who was scratched from the starting lineup due to a right foot contusion. Arozarena and Yandy Díaz, who began the inning at second base, both advanced on a fastball that got away from catcher Kyle Higashioka.

But Cruz went down swinging for the second out, and Mejía popped out to end it.

“We always feel good any time Nelson's got a bat in his hand and there's guys on base,” Cash said. “You're going against one of the game's best in Chapman. That's the way it goes sometimes, but we stayed at it right there ‘til the very end.”