ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — After one of the worst Augusts the Yankees have had in decades, their September didn’t get off to a promising start.
Now their once-seemingly-insurmountable lead in the AL East is down to five games — four in the loss column.
The Yankees, who held a 15 1⁄2-game lead over the Rays on July 8, have gone 18-30 since then, including a 9-0 loss to second-place Tampa Bay on Friday.
“That’s an embarrassing loss,’’ Aaron Boone said. “That’s hopefully one of those rock-bottom situations where you should be [ticked] off and embarrassed. We’ve set a better standard around here.”
“Yeah, I think that’s pretty clear,’’ Aaron Judge said. “Nobody likes to lose. We’re going to see what this team is made of. No team has ever coasted into the postseason and expect to go out there and win every day. We’ve got to bring it every single day. So today’s over with and we have to bring it tomorrow. It’s plain and simple. That’s what it really comes down to — [ticked] off, not [ticked] off, you’ve got to bring it every single day.”
Coming off a 10-18 August — their worst month since Stump Merrill’s 1991 team went 9-19 in September of a 71-91 season — the Yankees (79-53) were outhit 11-5 and made three errors. They struck out 13 times, went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10. The Rays (73-57) have won 15 of their last 19.
How much is Judge paying attention to the Yankees’ dwindling lead? “I don’t pay attention to it,’’ he said. “That’s the worst thing you can do in anything is press or feel pressure. We’re playing a kid’s game. This is a game we love, and we’ve got to go out there with enthusiasm and energy every single night and not really worry about the standings. Because if we show up and do what we do — have good at-bats, command the stuff we need to on the mound — we’re going to look up at the end of the year and be where we want to be in the standings. So we can’t sit here and try to press. I don’t think anybody in this room is trying to press or looking at that kind of stuff. We’ve got plenty on our plate.”
What tells Judge this team can turn it around? “These guys have done it. We’ve done it all year, especially to stay in first place in this tough division that we’re in,’’ he said. “We’ve got everything we need here in this room. Nobody on the outside’s going to help us, nobody’s feeling sorry for us. Like I said, it just comes down to the attitude of even if I’m not feeling good or I’m a little banged up, you’ve got to bring it.”
Making the evening even worse? Andrew Benintendi left in the third inning with a right wrist injury after swinging and missing at a first-pitch slider. X-rays of the wrist came back negative, but the club said he will undergo an MRI on Saturday.
Domingo German allowed three runs (two earned) and six hits in 6 2⁄3 innings. Through five innings, he had allowed only one run, which was unearned, but Christian Bethancourt’s two-run homer in the sixth gave the Rays a 3-0 lead. Tampa Bay turned it into a laugher with a six-run eighth that started with Bay Shore’s Greg Weissert on the mound and ended with a position player, Marwin Gonzalez, getting the last out.
The Rays took the lead in the fourth when Josh Donaldson’s glove and arm let him down. The first miscue came when he booted Harold Ramirez’s one-out grounder for an error. Randy Arozarena followed with a grounder that had Donaldson first looking to second and realizing he didn’t have a play there. He rushed his throw to first, which was late and wild, with the ball trickling deep into foul ground in right. Oswaldo Cabrera got to it quickly and made a good throw home, where Jose Trevino tagged the headfirst-sliding Ramirez out (Arozarena took third on the throwing error). But David Peralta came through with a two-out single for a 1-0 lead.
“I’m in charge of this team and what we’re going through right now,’’ Boone said. “I know better than anyone there’s going to be hard moments and hard times. I do think the effort’s there, I think the care is there. But we’ve set a much better standard in that room that we’ve got to start living up to.”