Rays miss chances vs. 'best team in baseball'

June 23rd, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- It was frustrating and deflating. But when the Rays were overtaken by the Yankees, 5-4, at Tropicana Field, dropping Tampa Bay 14 games behind the AL East front-runners and solidly into fourth place, Wednesday night’s result was the latest variation on a well-worn theme.

The Rays keep coming close against the Yankees. But not close enough.

The Rays (37-32) had six matchups against New York (51-18) in the past nine games. They lost five of them -- by a total of seven runs.

“We're just not capitalizing on opportunities,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We didn't make the big pitch. We didn't get the big hit, the big play. There were things throughout that game, all three of those things came up and kind of bit us.

“They're the best team in baseball. [Competitive games against them] shows that we're a really good team.’’

But not good enough -- at least not yet.

“These are the series we need to win,’’ Rays shortstop Taylor Walls said. “We’re going to have to start winning them down the stretch. Obviously it’s pretty tough, especially when you jump on them the way we do, kind of have the momentum. You feel like you’re kind of in control of the game, then they just kind of come back and take it away from you.’’

Technically, the game was decided in the eighth inning, when Yankees catcher Jose Trevino drilled a 3-2 slider from Rays reliever Ralph Garza Jr. for a two-run homer. Garza, the seventh Rays pitcher Wednesday, labored through a 39-pitch eighth inning. He had three of the eight walks surrendered by Rays pitching, including a leadoff walk to Isiah Kiner-Falefa that set up Trevino’s game-changing blow.

Cash absolved Garza of any blame.

“It was fairly obvious that we were a little gassed in the 'pen, from probably the night before and even previous usage, and it kind of caught up to us there at the end,’’ said Cash, whose club has five relievers on the injured list. “That ain't on Garza. Not at all. That's on me as much as anybody."

Garza hadn’t worked since June 10 and was making his first appearance with the Rays since a brief demotion to Triple-A Durham.

“So he had a layoff there," Cash said, "and we've just kind of been waiting for that spot, and it kind of caught up on us.’’

Cash said earlier missed opportunities were more painful. The Rays were flying after a three-run second inning, and they led 4-1 in the fourth inning.

But the Rays missed a prime opportunity to tack on in the fourth. With the bases loaded and two outs, Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery had just thrown his eighth consecutive ball for a 2-0 count on Ji-Man Choi. Then Trevino whirled behind the plate and picked off Walls at third as Josh Donaldson broke behind the runner for the tag.

Walls said he and third-base coach Rodney Linares were intent on an aggressive lead, sensing Montgomery could throw a wild pitch, but “I was out there hanging way too far’’ and Donaldson’s break wasn’t noticed until it was too late.

In the sixth, the Rays nearly escaped a jam unscathed. With two outs and two Yankees on base, Walls rushed a throw on Trevino’s slow hopper. It bounced and Choi couldn’t handle it at first base. The throwing error allowed Giancarlo Stanton to score and make it 4-2.

The Yankees chipped away -- actually, they chopped away with two solo homers by Aaron Judge (a Statcast-projected total of 802 feet) -- until Trevino was positioned for the game-winner.

Lost in the result was Isaac Paredes becoming the club’s first player with four homers in four consecutive at-bats and Vidal Bruján’s two-run shot, along with starter Shane Baz allowing just one run over 4 2/3 innings. With two runners on and one out in the fifth, Baz struck out Judge on a 3-2 pitch. Then Cash went to left-hander Brooks Raley, who got lefty Anthony Rizzo on an inning-ending soft liner.

That started a parade of relievers for the already vulnerable Rays bullpen. It battled and nearly finished the job, but Cash said the eight walks issued were unacceptable.

“It goes without saying that their team is going to capitalize on opportunities,’’ Cash said of the Yankees. “Free passes came about. We're pitching some young guys, and some of those situations can get a little sticky. They're going to be better for it. It just stings a little bit in the moment.’’

Baz found little consolation in playing competitively against the Yankees.

“That’s two good teams playing each other,’’ Baz said. “I think it’s always going to be close games. I mean, it’s obviously a sour taste. But I think everyone in here is confident that we can play at a high level like that.’’

The Rays were close. But not close enough. It added up to another frustrating defeat.