Clay Holmes of the Yankees reacts during the ninth inning against...

Clay Holmes of the Yankees reacts during the ninth inning against the Mariners at Yankee Stadium on Monday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Well, no one saw that coming.

And there was no reason to.

Clay Holmes, as good as any reliever in the sport has been this season, entered Monday night 14-for-15 in save chances, having not allowed an earned run in 20 games.

Those numbers changed dramatically in Game No. 21.

Called on to protect a three-run lead in the ninth, the Mariners tagged the closer for four runs, sending the Yankees to a 5-4 loss in front of 37,590 at the Stadium.

“That one’s on me,” Holmes said. “My stuff, I felt, was good enough tonight. I just didn’t make a pitch when I needed to.”

The loss snapped the Yankees seven-game winning streak – though, big picture, they’re still 33-16 overall and have won 14 of their last 18 – and Holmes’ rough night flushed a brilliant outing by Marcus Stroman. The righthander allowed one run, three hits and a walk over 7 1/3 innings in which he struck out six, lowering his ERA to 3.05 (the lone run was a homer by Dominic Canzone, Stroman’s final batter of the night, in the eighth, which made it 3-1).

“Clay’s been unbelievable. I think Clay’s the best closer in baseball,” Stroman said. “It was very weak contact. If they hit the ball harder on some of those plays, we probably wouldn’t be in this situation. Clay’s going to continue to be incredible for us.”

Julio Rodriguez started the rally with a one-out infield single – somewhat emblematic of the inning as, like Stroman said, there was little hard contact – and Cal Raleigh walked.

Luke Raley hit a slow chopper to second where Gleyber Torres rushed his throw to first, the ball skipping into the home dugout, which brought in Rodriguez to make it 4-2. Mitch Haniger blooped an RBI single to make it 4-2 and Holmes walked Dylan Moore to load the bases for Canzone. The rightfielder’s sacrifice fly made it 4-4 and Ty France’s RBI single to right made it 5-4.

Though Stroman and Aaron Boone both lamented the soft contact against Holmes, the closer focused on the bottom line.

“Those balls, sometimes they find holes,” Holmes said of the Mariners’ good fortune in the inning. “You still, as a pitcher, you’ve got to make pitches after that and overcome that, and I wasn’t able to do that tonight.”

There was the potential for drama in the bottom of the ninth against righty Andres Munoz, no surprise in that the Yankees have 15 comeback victories, nearly halfway to their 2023 total (31). Juan Soto singled with one out, bringing up the red-hot Aaron Judge, named AL Player of the Week after going 10-for-20 with three homers. But Judge struck out and Alex Verdugo, who drove in three runs to help the Yankees build a 3-0 lead through five, grounded to second as Munoz got his ninth save and lowered his ERA to 1.77.

Stroman, who at one point retired 15 straight, left to a loud and long standing ovation with one out in the eighth, replaced by Luke Weaver, who recorded two quick outs.

“Being born here and coming out of the game to a standing ovation means the world to me. Just trying to show the love and reciprocate the love from the crowd right back to them,” said Stroman, who further pumped up the fans with his arms just before descending into the Yankees dugout. “Because they don’t know how much that means to me and how much that picks me up. Even before the game when I go out there [to the bullpen] I can feel the energy of the crowd. I’m someone who kind of builds off that and I feel I’m even better when I have that behind me.”

Cole ready for hitters

Gerrit Cole is set to take the next step in his rehab – throwing to hitters, which will occur Tuesday afternoon. “I’ve had a few significant days, but I don’t find them any more or less significant than the other,” Cole, rehabbing from right elbow inflammation, said Monday afternoon of the significance of this step. “Sometimes it’s just like a day of ‘firsts.’ It’s usually a fun day. First day throwing, first day on a mound, first day facing hitters, first day doing two ‘ups’ [simulating multiple innings].”

Cole laughed.

“I feel like probably the biggest one [significant step] will be my first start back,” he said. “That’ll be the biggest one. I can probably say that will certainty.” That date still is a question though, from the time Cole was diagnosed with right elbow inflammation in mid-March, the Yankees’ organization would have signed on the dotted line for a return by July 1, and that remains in play as a possibility.

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