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Corey Kluber far from his best, pulled early in Yankees' loss to Rays

Yankees starting pitcher Corey Kluber, right, hands the

Yankees starting pitcher Corey Kluber, right, hands the ball to manager Aaron Boone as he is taken out of the game against the Tampa Bay Rays during the third inning of a baseball game Friday, April 9, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Credit: AP/Chris O'Meara

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Well, that was some day in the Yankees’ universe.

A few hours after Aaron Boone repeatedly stumbled through explaining what has been plaguing Aaron Judge of late — and never arriving there — Corey Kluber had next to nothing in a 10-5 loss to the Rays on Friday at Tropicana Field.

The Rays, regular-season and then October tormentors of the Yankees last year, kicked off their home opener by raising their 2020 AL East and AL championship banners above the catwalk in left-center.

"Never something you want to see," Giancarlo Stanton said of the ceremony held by the Rays, whom the Yankees generally loathe (the feeling is mutual).

 

Or what followed, as the Rays knocked out Kluber in the third inning and tallied two, three and four runs in innings 2-4 as they turned things into a laugher by the middle innings.

"I actually thought stuff-wise he was pretty good and maybe ticked up a little bit [from his first start]," Boone said of Kluber. "A couple plays not made behind him led to a really long inning . . . I think just a couple things that didn’t really go his way today led to a really tough, long inning for him."

Kluber, who pitched decently in his Yankees debut last Saturday against Toronto, was not good Friday, allowing five runs (three earned), five hits and two walks in 2 1⁄3 innings.

Like his manager, he felt his stuff actually was OK, but "I think at times, I let them back into counts," said Kluber, who threw 34 of his 62 pitches in the third inning. "Maybe not as aggressive in the zone when I was ahead in the count as I would have liked to have been."

With a run home, the bases loaded and one out in the third, Kluber was replaced by Nick Nelson, who wound up allowing a pair of bases-loaded doubles in his outing.

His first batter, Joey Wendle, doubled to leftfield to drive in two runs for a 5-4 lead. "I knew I missed my spot as soon as it left my hand," Nelson said. "Just kind of hoped for the best."

Nelson also allowed a three-run double by Brandon Lowe and an RBI single by Yandy Diaz in the fourth as the Rays went ahead 9-4. Willy Adames homered off Lucas Luetge in the seventh and DJ LeMahieu homered in the eighth.

The Rays gave Rich Hill the lead in the second, aided by LeMahieu’s error.

Kluber struck out Lowe looking at a 91-mph fastball to start the second and Diaz chopped one to third. LeMahieu, switched to third from second a little over an hour before the game as Gio Urshela was placed on the COVID-19 injured list because of side effects from vaccination, (by rule, he can return as soon as a day later or whenever he feels ready to play), fielded the ball cleanly, but his throw pulled Jay Bruce off the bag.

Wendle’s sharp grounder squirted past a sliding Tyler Wade for a single that put runners at the corners. Adames skied one off the top of the wall in right-center and Brett Phillips’ sacrifice fly made it 2-0.

"It’s easy to probably allow yourself to get frustrated, but I think that good pitchers are able to flush that stuff," Kluber said of the plays not made behind him. "You’re not going be able to do anything to change the results of what happened previously. So whether it’s you making a bad pitch, you making a good pitch, things don’t go the way you want them to, I don’t think it does any good to dwell on it good or bad. You have to move on."

The Yankees came right back with four runs. Wade reached on an infield single, LeMahieu stung a ground-rule double and Stanton smacked a 70-mph curveball through the vacated right side of the infield for a two-out, two-run single that tied it at 2-2. Aaron Hicks crushed a 1-and-2, 88-mph fastball to leftfield for his first homer of the year and a 4-2 lead.

But Kluber could not hold it. Or get out of the third inning, for that matter.

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