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Yanks' offense sluggish in finale loss to Rays

Special to MLB.com

ST. PETERSBURG -- New York starter Luis Cessa had been rolling through the first five innings against Tampa Bay with an early lead, but things quickly unraveled for the Yankees in the bottom of the sixth, thanks to a pair of home runs by the Rays.

That proved to be the difference, as the Yankees' offense was held in check in a number of high-leverage situations, dropping the rubber match in a three-game series at Tropicana Field, 3-2, on Wednesday afternoon.

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ST. PETERSBURG -- New York starter Luis Cessa had been rolling through the first five innings against Tampa Bay with an early lead, but things quickly unraveled for the Yankees in the bottom of the sixth, thanks to a pair of home runs by the Rays.

That proved to be the difference, as the Yankees' offense was held in check in a number of high-leverage situations, dropping the rubber match in a three-game series at Tropicana Field, 3-2, on Wednesday afternoon.

View Full Game Coverage

"That's a tough loss today after the first game of the series," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "We didn't have quite enough today. Frustrating with a couple of losses [this series] that could have gone either way. We've got to move on quickly and go kick off a nice homestand."

Video: NYY@TB: Boone on Cessa, series finale loss

Cessa started the sixth by giving up a single to right field before Kevin Kiermaier sent an offering over the right-field wall for the two-run blast. Jonathan Holder promptly replaced Cessa and proceeded to get two quick outs, but C.J. Cron went ahead and hit his own big fly for an insurance run.

Coming into the day, New York had expected to go up against right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, but prior to game time, Eovaldi was traded to Boston. The deal meant that the Yankees would be up against a "bullpen day" for the Rays.

That didn't mean New York didn't have its opportunities, though, and Boone didn't want to use that as an excuse.

"That's part of the game, and we're prepared to roll with anything," Boone said. "They're guys we've seen, and it's obviously a different style than what you're normally accustomed to seeing, but our guys are prepared. It's something they leveraged, worked in their favor because it is a little different, but you have to have the ability to adjust to it."

Video: NYY@TB: Torres adjusts to tough hop, gets Duffy

Gleyber Torres, fresh off the disabled list, walked to begin the second inning against Jaime Schultz. Greg Bird followed with a bunt single before a Miguel Andujar fly ball allowed Torres to advance. Neil Walker hit a sacrifice fly to bring in Torres, but a flyout ended the inning, with the Yanks claiming a 1-0 lead.

In the top of the fourth, slugger Giancarlo Stanton ripped a ball to deep left field with an exit velocity of 101 mph, but Joey Wendle was able to track it down at the warning track, a couple feet shy of a home run.

Most notably, in the top of the eighth, Stanton was at the plate with runners on the corners and one out. He brought home one run on a sacrifice fly. But Torres was unable to capitalize any further, as Sergio Romo got him to swing and miss on a 3-2 count to end the inning.

Video: NYY@TB: Stanton plates Gardner, trims deficit to 1

Finally, in the top of the ninth with a runner on first, the Yankees' offense got a lift when a missed catch by Matt Duffy covering second allowed Andujar to reach the bag and Aaron Hicks to reach first. But an Austin Romine popout gave New York two outs, and a Brett Gardner strikeout ended the game.

"We just didn't have a great game," Gardner said. "I thought Cessa threw the ball well early in the game. Obviously, they scored a few runs in the sixth, but that shouldn't be enough to hold us down. We have to do better."

With the loss, New York's record fell to 64-36 -- enough for a sizeable 4 1/2-game cushion for first place the American League Wild Card race, though it is still 5 1/2 games back of Boston in the AL East. Gardner had a simple answer on what needs to go right.

"We just have to play better baseball," Gardner said. "We can't worry about what other teams are doing, especially when we're not playing them. We just have to go out and win games. It doesn't matter who we're playing. We have a lot of baseball left."

Video: NYY@TB: Cessa on outing, Gardner on tough hitting day

SOUND SMART
Of the 12 runs scored by New York in the series, none were via a home run. It marks the first time since Sept. 2-4, 2016, against the Orioles that the Yankees were held without a homer in series of at least three games.

HE SAID IT
"It's still July. We've been doing this long enough to know there's a lot of games left against the team in front of us, and we have to just get out of Tampa." -- Gardner, on the struggles at Tropicana Field, where the Yankees are just 1-5 this season

UP NEXT
Newly acquired reliever Zach Britton could make his pinstripes debut on Thursday as New York hosts Kansas City in the opener of a four-game series at Yankee Stadium at 7:05 p.m. ET. Sonny Gray will take the bump for the Yankees and will look improve on his last outing, which saw him give up three runs in 5 1/3 innings. He will face Royals right-hander Jakob Junis.

Greg Zeck is a contributor to MLB.com.

New York Yankees, Luis Cessa, Giancarlo Stanton, Neil Walker