To the pantheon of Yankees-killers in recent years, add the name of . . . Travis d’Arnaud.
It’s no joke to the Yanks, who suddenly can’t get the former Met out.
The catcher, a scrap-heap pickup by the Rays in May, hit three homers Monday night to lead Tampa Bay to a 5-4 victory over the Yankees in front of 43,173 stunned-into-silence fans at the Stadium.
D’Arnaud hit a three-run homer over the rightfield wall on a full-count slider from Aroldis Chapman with two outs in the ninth to turn a 4-2 deficit into a 5-4 lead. He hit a walk-off homer off Chad Green on July 6 to beat the Yankees.
“All night the slider had been working for me,” Chapman said through his translator. “I was trying to surprise him there with the slider down and away. It was a little higher than I wanted and he took advantage of it.”
All three of d’Arnaud’s homers went to the opposite field, as did the walk-off homer against Green. It gave him four home runs in 35 at-bats against the Yankees in 2019 compared to five in 120 at-bats against everyone else. According to Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first catcher in MLB history to hit three homers in a game while batting leadoff.
Chapman, who suffered his fourth blown save, allowed back-to-back singles by Kevin Kiermaier and Guillermo Heredia to start the ninth. He struck out Willy Adames and Joey Wendle before d’Arnaud hit the eighth pitch of his at-bat 355 feet just over the wall in right. Aaron Judge leaped at the wall but didn’t have a chance to catch it.
Chapman had gotten ahead of d’Arnaud 1-and-2. “A great at-bat by d’Arnaud,” Aaron Boone said. “He did a good job of laying off some tough pitches when Chappy was ahead in the count and finally got a mistake and finished off what was a pretty great night, obviously.”
Before that, the night belonged to Edwin Encarnacion. He had mostly struggled in 18 games since joining the Yankees in a trade last month, entering the night with a .139/.225/.347 slash line and four homers. But he homered twice Monday, giving him four in eight games against Tampa Bay as a Yankee and 27 overall, second in the American League to Mike Trout’s 30. His second homer, a two-run blast off Andrew Kittredge with two outs in the eighth, put the Yankees ahead 4-2.
Kittredge retired the first two batters of the ninth before walking Judge. In came Oliver Drake to face the slumping Luke Voit, who struck out looking to end it.
“Tonight was a great game in a lot of ways,” Boone said. “Looked like we were going to outlast them there with a couple of big swings, but that’s a really good team and they’ve picked themselves up off the mat, too, when we’ve kind of had our way with them and they’ve come back with some big hits in some big spots, especially d’Arnaud.”
The Rays (56-40) climbed within five games of the AL East-leading Yankees (59-33). The Yankees, who have lost three straight to Tampa Bay, slipped to 31-11 against the AL East and 9-5 against the Rays.
James Paxton pitched well, allowing two runs — both on homers by d’Arnaud — and seven hits in six innings to lower his ERA to 3.94.
Blake Snell, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, allowed one run and three hits in five innings. The run came on Encarnacion’s two-out homer in the fourth, which cut the Yankees’ deficit to 2-1. Gio Urshela’s two-out homer in the seventh tied it at 2-2.
Paxton and Green, who pitched two scoreless innings, benefited from standout defense. Judge cut down a runner at third with a remarkable throw, Gary Sanchez picked off a careless runner at second, Aaron Hicks made a running catch at the wall in center, and there was more third-base wizardry by Urshela.
“I felt like it was a step in the right direction,” said Paxton, who took the loss July 7 against the Rays despite allowing two runs in seven innings, striking out 11 and walking none. “Fastball wasn’t as good as last game, but it was still pretty good. And I feel like I’m making strides with my breaking ball, my curveball as well. So it’s slowly starting to kind of come together.”