'Not ideal' for NY, but magic number still 1

October 3rd, 2021

NEW YORK -- It was six days ago that Giancarlo Stanton emerged from what was described as a raucous visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park, the Yankees having swept the Red Sox to grab the top spot in the American League Wild Card chase. Concerning his team’s rollercoaster season, the slugger remarked: “We aren’t afraid to make it interesting, that’s for sure.”

The final day of the regular season will also make for essential viewing, though Stanton and his teammates would choose a different adjective for their current predicament. was knocked out in the third inning, an unwilling participant in Brandon Lowe’s three-homer performance as the Yankees absorbed a 12-2 loss to the Rays on Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

“We got embarrassed today,” outfielder Brett Gardner said. “If we’re going to make the playoffs and ultimately get where we want to go, they’re a team we’re going to have to beat and go through. I’m disappointed in the way we played today; hopefully tomorrow will be better.”

The defeat stalled a potential Yankees postseason clinch for a second consecutive day. The Yanks (91-70) are now tied with the Red Sox (91-70), although Boston would host the Wild Card Game if both teams win Sunday due to a better head-to-head record this season. The Mariners (90-71) and Blue Jays (90-71) also remain in the playoff hunt. There still could be a four-way tie for the two Wild Card spots.

Simply put: a victory behind starter Jameson Taillon on Sunday would guarantee the Yankees a Wild Card spot. They’re assured of at least playing beyond Sunday, though they’d prefer not to have to entertain a Game 163 tiebreaker.

“We’ve been down this road before, where we’ve taken it on the chin or had a tough one,” manager Aaron Boone said. “There won’t be any flinch. We’ll come out ready to go tomorrow and expect to get a ‘W.’”

Montgomery has been one of the Yanks’ most effective starters this year, but the left-hander had little fastball command and few answers for Tampa Bay’s lineup, hearing boos as he left the mound in the third inning.

“Nobody’s perfect; they’re bound to happen over 30 starts,” Montgomery said. “It just sucks. I wanted to give our guys a better outing.”

Montgomery permitted a career-high seven earned runs as Lowe reached the right-field seats for a three-run homer in the first inning and again in the third, followed by Mike Zunino’s solo homer to left field. Lowe added his third home run in the seventh inning, a solo shot off Michael King.

“There were some pitches that were close in the zone, and they were able to put good swings on that,” catcher Gary Sánchez said through an interpreter. “At the same time, you’ve got to remember Montgomery has done a great job for us all year. It was definitely a difficult day for him.”

Austin Meadows slugged a three-run blast off Joely Rodríguez that put Tampa Bay up by double digits, coasting as they secured the first 100-win season in franchise history. The Yanks’ offense was held to Anthony Rizzo’s first-inning homer and Gio Urshela’s run-scoring triple in the fourth.

“They just got up early and continued to add on,” Gardner said. “We had some chances to claw back into the game. They were able to extend. Again, we’re playing a really good team. We just got beat today in all facets.”

Though it hardly mattered in the outcome, Gleyber Torres earned a stern reprimand on the bench in the seventh inning for jogging to first base on a strikeout pitch that zipped past the catcher Zunino.

Boone said that Torres initially believed he could not run to first base because the base was occupied; first baseman Luke Voit sustained a knee injury just this week under similar circumstances. However, because there were two outs in the inning, Torres would have been permitted to reach first base.

“First off, you’ve got to run. That’s the answer,” Boone said. “He felt bad about it. It’s something you’ve got to know and be on top of it, but it’s also something he feels terrible about and we’ve got to learn from.”

Gardner said that “it’s not ideal” having to wait until the season’s final day to determine their playoff seeding, but he continues to believe these Yankees have the ingredients for a deep postseason run.

“I still love the group of guys that we have, and love our chances moving forward,” Gardner said. “We’ve got a very talented group. We haven’t played up to the expectations we have for ourselves, but as bad as today hurts, we’re not far removed from playing some really good baseball against really good teams.”