The rain was an issue. The cold was an issue. But the biggest issue the Rays faced in the Yankees' home opener was Didi Gregorius. Starting pitcher Chris Archer couldn't get him out. Reliever Austin Pruitt couldn't, either. Two home runs and eight RBIs later, the Rays were stuck with an 11-4 loss on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.
There were other things that hurt the Rays, some missed opportunities at the plate and a key bunt play on which they couldn't get an out. Nothing stood out the way Gregorius did, though -- not on a day he became the second player ever to drive in eight runs in a game against the Rays.
The first was Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, in a 22-4 Devil Rays loss in the first game of a doubleheader back in 2002. The second was Gregorius, another shortstop, the one who sometimes gets overlooked in all the talk about Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
"He's hitting cleanup for the New York Yankees," Archer pointed out. "He's a good hitter. You have to tip your hat and learn from the mistakes."
Archer gave up four runs in five innings. Gregorius scored the first one after a second-inning double and drove home the other three with his third-inning home run.
"He capitalized on fastballs," Archer said. "He did big damage on heaters in his sweet spot. He swung the bat really well, but we didn't execute on the double I gave up and on the two home runs."
There was one other big time the Rays didn't execute, and it was on the bunt play that set up the decisive four-run Yankee rally in the seventh inning. Denard Span's two-run pinch-hit double had tied the game at 4-4, but Tyler Austin led off the seventh with a double off Pruitt.
Yankees leadoff man Brett Gardner followed that with a bunt down the third-base line. Matt Duffy fielded it, but his throw went past Brad Miller, who was covering first base. The error gave the Yankees the lead and changed the Rays' pitching plans (had it stayed tied, Cash said he would have gone to Chaz Roe to face Judge and Stanton). And by the time the inning ended, Gregorius had connected for another three-run home run off Pruitt to put the game away.
"Pretty big," Cash said, referring to the bunt. "We talk all the time about our margin for error. Wet ball, the elements weren't ideal. But it's called a sacrifice for a reason. They're giving you an out."
The Rays didn't get that out.
"I couldn't feel my hand," Duffy said. "It's not an excuse. I had plenty of time. Big situation. Poor throw. Period."
It was a bad play. It helped change the game. But on this miserable day at Yankee Stadium, nothing changed the game as much as the Rays' inability to get Didi Gregorius out.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED About that bunt: Miller entered the game in the sixth inning, pinch hitting for Daniel Robertson after left-handed Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery was out of the game. Wanting to keep Miller's bat in the lineup and not wanting to burn another player, Cash put him at second base, where he didn't play at all in Spring Training or in the opening series. Miller said that wasn't an issue, even though he appeared to be a little late getting to first base to take Duffy's throw.
"I told them I was ready to go," he said. "I wish I would have caught [the throw]. I thought I could have made it, but I didn't."
Gomez saves a run: When it was still a 4-4 game, Yankees second baseman Tyler Wade hit a sixth-inning fly ball that seemed headed for the right-field seats. Rays right fielder Carlos Gomez made sure it didn't get there, going back to the fence and leaping to rob Wade of what would have been his first career home run.
"That was pretty awesome," said Pruitt, who threw the pitch. More >
QUOTABLE "We're having some tough times with shortstops, between Boston shortstops and Yankee shortstops." -- Cash, noting Gregorius' big day after Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts went 8-for-17 against the Rays in the opening series
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Rays pitchers struggled with Gregorius, but they struck out Stanton all five times he came up. It was the first five-strikeout game of his career and he became just the fourth player ever to fan five times against the Rays. The other three? Jim Thome in 2000, Andy Phillips in '05 and Hank Conger in '15.