ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — An Achilles’ heel from much of last season stepped up and bit the Yankees on Friday night: inconsistency from all relievers not a part of the powerful back end of the bullpen.
Called on to protect a one-run lead in the seventh, Adam Warren, excellent much of the season, was hurt by a misplay by the usually sure-handed Ronald Torreyes and was charged with three runs.
Matt Holliday momentarily absolved the pair with a monstrous opposite-field two-run homer that tied the score in the top of the eighth. Then Tyler Clippard walked two batters in the bottom half, setting up a two-out RBI single by longtime Yankees tormentor Evan Longoria that sent the Rays to a 5-4 win. It was Longoria’s fourth hit of the game.
“It was probably the splitter I threw,” Clippard said of the 0-and-1 pitch Longoria hit through the left side. “But that wasn’t the key to that inning. The game should not have gotten to that point. The walks to [Derek] Norris and [Kevin] Kiermaier is what killed me.”
The AL East-leading Yankees (24-15), managed by bench coach Rob Thomson as Joe Girardi attended his daughter’s high school graduation, dropped their second straight on this six-game trip. “Matty hits the big two-run homer late,” Thomson said, “it’s a tough one to lose.”
Tampa Bay (22-22) opened the seventh with three straight hits — by Corey Dickerson, Kiermaier and Longoria — to load the bases. Logan Morrison’s long sacrifice fly to center tied it at 2 and moved Kiermaier and Longoria up a base. Warren responded by striking out Steven Souza Jr. With lefthanded-hitting Colby Rasmus up, Thomson brought in lefthander Chasen Shreve and Rays manager Kevin Cash countered with the righthanded-hitting Rickie Weeks Jr.
One pitch after nearly catching Weeks looking for the third out, Shreve — who called the ball three call “borderline” but didn’t take major issue with it — appeared to escape when Weeks chopped a full-count splitter to third. Torreyes, however, got caught between hops, and the second one skipped under his glove for what was scored a two-run double that put the Rays ahead 4-2.
“That’s a play I know I can make. It’s a play I’ve made many times,” Torreyes said through his translator. “It was the difference in the game.”
Shreve provided Torreyes cover, saying Weeks might have beaten it out. “Weeks is pretty quick,” he said, adding of Torreyes: “He’s such a good fielder.”
Rays lefthander Jose Alvarado started the eighth by walking Brett Gardner. One out later, Cash called on righthander Ryan Stanek to face Holliday, who hammered a high 100-mph fastball to right for his eighth homer of the season to tie it at 4-4.
The Yankees experienced a scary moment in the bottom of the eighth. Daniel Robertson hit a foul pop near the Rays’ bullpen in rightfield, and as Starlin Castro drifted under the ball, a sliding Aaron Judge undercut him shoulder-first, dislodging the ball. Both players appeared briefly shaken up but both were seen smiling, and Castro displayed a nasty-looking scrape on his left forearm.
“Nobody called it,” Judge said. “It’s a tough play, in a dome, both of us can’t really take our eyes off the ball . . . He said he’s all right and I’m good. I’ve gotten hit harder in football.”
Clippard walked Norris with one out and Kiermaier with two, bringing up Longoria, who smoked a hard single to left to give the Rays a 5-4 lead. It gave him 102 career RBIs against the Yankees, the most of any active player (Adam Jones and Jose Bautista are next with 78). “He’s hurt us in the past,” Thomson said of Longoria. “He’s a heck of a player. He’s the guy that you don’t really want to beat you.”
Notes & quotes: Chase Headley, in a 4-for-40 slide, got the night off and was replaced by Torreyes. Gary Sanchez also got the night off . . . Tyler Austin, who came into spring training with an outside chance of winning a roster spot but suffered a left ankle fracture in mid-February, was scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Class A Tampa on Friday, but the game was rained out.