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Bullpen unravels as Rays yield AL East lead

@ladsonbill24
May 19, 2019

NEW YORK -- The Rays and Yankees usually find themselves in close games, but that was not the case on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. Tampa Bay’s bullpen had a tough time throwing strikes in the sixth inning, and it proved costly as the Yanks pounded the Rays, 13-5, and

NEW YORK -- The Rays and Yankees usually find themselves in close games, but that was not the case on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. Tampa Bay’s bullpen had a tough time throwing strikes in the sixth inning, and it proved costly as the Yanks pounded the Rays, 13-5, and retook the lead in the American League East.

It was a game that saw Tampa Bay record three homers -- back-to-back big flies from Kevin Kiermaier and Willy Adames in the second inning and a three-run shot from Brandon Lowe in the third to give the Rays the lead -- but it wasn’t enough.

Box score

The score was tied at 5 when the Yankees scored seven runs in the sixth. How bad was it for the Rays’ bullpen in that inning? It took 37 minutes for Tampa Bay’s relievers to record three outs. It didn’t help that the bullpen allowed five walks that frame, either.

Diego Castillo started the inning for the Rays and couldn’t throw strikes. Before he knew it, the bases were loaded for Luke Voit, who walked to break the tie. It was especially strange, because the inning before, Castillo was able to get out of the jam. Gary Sánchez led off with a triple, but he was left stranded.

“We pushed it. We knew we had the off-day,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Castillo did such a good job with getting out of that jam the inning before, but we asked a lot of him.”

Ryne Stanek then entered the game and he, too, had problems throwing strikes, walking Kendrys Morales to bring home Aaron Hicks. Stanek left the game after allowing an RBI single to Gleyber Torres.

“I wasn’t overly good. I just came in and ended up throwing a lot of splits, and I wasn’t able to locate as well as I should,” Stanek said. “... The game got out of control pretty quick.”

But the biggest blow came from pinch-hitter Thairo Estrada, who hit a bases-clearing double off Casey Sadler.

“Our pitching has been outstanding for us this year, and they are going to continue to be outstanding, but today, it wasn’t their day,” Cash said.

It wasn’t supposed to be a bullpen day

Rays right-hander Charlie Morton is considered one of the best starters in the American League, but he didn’t have it on Sunday, lasting just four innings and allowing five runs (three earned). By the time he left the game, Morton had thrown 88 pitches, allowed two home runs and walked four hitters.

“I don’t think he could get in sync with anything,” Cash said. “He had one inning where it could go in the right direction. It wasn’t happening. His breaking ball was in and out of the zone. Their were a lot of 3-2 counts. It was just one of those days where I don’t think he had it.”

After three innings, Morton had a 5-3 lead, but he allowed a game-tying home run to Aaron Hicks in the bottom of the fourth to make it a 5-5 game. He was left with a no-decision.

“I was working behind guys, not locating at all,” Morton said. “For the last couple of innings, it felt like I was locating a little bit better. I really made a bad pitch to Hicks. Four innings’ work, it was terrible.”

The Rays are now back in second place, a half-game behind the Yankees in the AL East race.

“The Yankees are a really good team, and they are going to be right there. That’s where we want to be,” Morton said. “… You want to have a series against these types of teams so you could see where you stand. Coming to Yankee Stadium and playing the Yankees, you want to play good ball.”

Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from 2002-2016. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.