A big Fourth-of-July weekend series against the first-place New York Yankees has become the barometer for just how far the Rays have progressed this season. Going into the series 2-7 against the Yankees this year, many pundits have pegged a five-game deficit by the All-Star break as the line at which the Rays have to be in order for them to make a run at the AL East division crown.
For this first game of the four-game set, which ends Sunday and leads into the All-Star break, the Rays found themselves six and a half games behind the Yankees for the top spot in the division. To satisfy the pundits, the Rays would have to win three of four to reach that threshold.
After Thursday's 8-4 10-inning loss to the Yankees, the Rays will need to sweep the remainder of the games in this series to get to that predetermined level set by people other than themselves. But with the way the Yankees have beaten the Rays this season, and especially tonight, that will be a difficult task to pull off, though the Rays were able to break through in one key area: scoring runs off Aroldis Chapman.
The Rays in their history had never scored a run off Chapman, and down 3-1 to the Yankees in the 9th, the Rays' prospect for a win was not looking good.
But after allowing a lead off walk to Nate Lowe, and striking out Willy Adames, Joey Wendle doubled home Lowe on a very close play at the plate that the Yankees asked to review. Replays showed that it looked as if Lowe missed home plate with his hand as catcher Gary Sanchez applied a tag, but the umpires upheld the ruling on the field of Lowe being safe. That run was the first run the Rays had ever scored off Chapman. And it would portend what was to come next.
Chapman then became uncharacteristically wild, as he sent two wild pitches past Sanchez, ultimately scoring Wendle from second, and tying the game.
Chapman, rattled by allowing the Rays to tie the score, then gave up back-to-back singles by Heredia and Diaz, then walked Tommy Pham to load the bases and face Meadows, who struck out to end the inning.
In the 10th, Oliver Drake came in for the Rays and immediately got into trouble, issuing back-to-back walks to Gio Urshela and Aaron Judge, pinch hitting for Mike Tauchman, who started the game in right field. Brett Gardner then laid down a perfect bunt to no-man's land between the mound and third base, loading the bases with no one out.
Rays Manager Kevin Cash then called on Emilio Pagan to try and get out of the jam, or at least limit the damage. Pagan's first pitch to DJ LeMahieu went past catcher Travis d'Arnaud and bounced directly back to him, fortunately not allowing Urshela to score from third. However, LeMahieu continued his torrid hitting with runners in scoring position, driving in two with a single through the drawn-in infield, and ending up at second on the throw home.
Gary Sanchez put an exclamation point on the inning, sending a Pagan pitch about as far as you could possibly hit a ball at the Trop without skimming the roof or catwalk, giving the Yanks an 8-3 lead.
The Rays threatened in the bottom of the 10th off Luis Cessa, ultimately cutting the deficit to four on an RBI single by Travis d'Arnaud. They then loaded the bases for Yandy Diaz, who hit into a fielder's choice to end the game.
The Rays jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first as Avi Garcia doubled home Tommy Pham, who had laced a one-out single off Yankees starter JA Happ.
The Yankees took a 2-1 lead in the top of the third off Rays starter Yonny Chirinos, as right fielder Tauchman singled home first baseman Mike Ford, and center fielder Aaron Hicks doubled home Tauchman.
Edwin Encarnacion extended the Yanks' led in the seventh with his 25th home run of the season, lining a shot into the left-field bleachers off Chirinos, who would have received the loss if not for the team's heroics in the ninth.
*The consolation prize for giving up two runs to the Rays was becoming the winning pitcher. Chapman earned his second win for getting that final out of the ninth as the Yanks scored five in the 10th. Oliver Drake took the loss and is 0-1.
*Attendance at the Trop was 21,974. Each game this week has had attendance over 20,000.
*Rays phenom Brendan McKay (1-0 0.00 ERA) will take on Rays killer Masahiro Tanaka (5-5 3.74 ERA) in Friday's game, which starts at 7:10 p.m.
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