ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Given the way recent weeks have gone for the Yankees, it was hardly a devastating loss.
But a slightly painful one nonetheless.
After Aaron Hicks provided a ninth-inning jolt with a two-out, two-strike homer to tie Saturday afternoon’s game, former Met Travis d’Arnaud hit a two-out homer off Chad Green in the bottom of the inning to give the Rays a 4-3 victory over the Yankees at Tropicana Field.
“He put a swing on it and clipped it,” Aaron Boone said of the first-pitch fastball that the righthanded-hitting d’Arnaud lined over the right-centerfield wall. “I was thinking double off the bat. I didn’t think he got it that good, but it just kept riding out of here. Tip your cap. He had a good day for them.”
The Yankees were coming off two consecutive extra-inning victories over the Rays, and they seemed headed for another extra-inning game when Green got two quick outs in the ninth. Then d’Arnaud, who wound up with three hits and two RBIs, jumped on his fastball and hit it 394 feet for a walk-off victory.
“It happened fast, obviously,” said Green, who had a 0.53 ERA in his previous 12 games and had not allowed a homer since May 19. “He put a good swing on it. Seemed like he was seeing the ball pretty well today.”
Green wanted the fastball “down and away.”
“Looked like it was just a little too high, caught too much of the plate,” he added.
The Yankees (57-30), who entered Saturday with 16 victories in their last 18 games, saw their AL East lead over the second-place Rays (51-39) trimmed to 7 ½ games.
Green was not the only Yankees pitcher to lament one pitch.
Helped by a remarkable four-pitch fifth, CC Sabathia entered the bottom of the seventh at only 75 pitches and with a 2-1 lead, courtesy of Hicks’ two-out RBI single in the top half of the inning.
He struck out Kevin Kiermaier on three pitches to start the inning and retired Willy Adames on a long fly to left before D’Arnaud dumped a single to right. With Tommy Kahnle ready in the bullpen from the start of the inning, Boone stuck with Sabathia, who hung a 1-and-2 slider that the lefthanded-hitting Nate Lowe hit over the right-centerfield wall for a 3-2 Rays lead.
“I just needed to make one more pitch,” said Sabathia, who allowed three runs and six hits in seven innings. “It’s frustrating, especially having a lefty up there that I know I can get out. I just have to make a better pitch.”
Sabathia, who will turn 39 on July 21, walked two, struck out five and pitched more than well enough to win, but he didn't get the offensive support he needed.
The Yankees had been among the best in the sport with runners in scoring position this season but failed throughout Saturday’s game. They loaded the bases with one out in the fifth, but Aaron Judge flied out to short right and Hicks was retired on a soft comebacker. After Hicks' RBI single in the seventh, they loaded the bases but came up short when Edwin Encarnacion lined out to deep leftfield. They finished 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10.
Hicks, who had tied Friday night's game with a pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning, tied Saturday's game with a 355-foot homer just over the leftfield wall on a 2-and-2 fastball from Colin Poche. The lefthander had replaced righthander Oliver Drake with two outs in the ninth specifically to face Hicks, who wound up with three hits.
Before Hicks' RBI single in the seventh, though, they managed only Brett Gardner's 14th homer as Blake Snell allowed one run and five hits in five innings.
“I thought we had pretty good at-bats all day,” Boone said. “Obviously, when you’re playing this team, runs are tough to come by. We created traffic today, we made it tough on Snell even though we couldn’t quite break through. I thought we gave ourselves a really good chance to score a bunch of runs today. Just couldn’t quite push through a couple times.”