SAN DIEGO – The Yankees aren’t faring much better against the Rays in the postseason than they did in the regular season.
As a result, they’re a game away from being done in 2020.
With Masahiro Tanaka – perhaps making his final appearance in a Yankee uniform – not close to his typical postseason self and Rays pitchers doing what they did most of the way in coasting to the AL East title, the Yankees took an 8-4 loss in Game 3 of the ALDS Wednesday night at Petco Park.
The Yankees, who easily won Game 1 but saw their opener strategy backfire big time in a Game 2 loss, trail 2-1 in the best-of-five series. They’ll send Jordan Montgomery, who will be making his postseason debut, to the mound in Thursday night’s Game 4. If the Yankees win, Gerrit Cole, the Game 1 starter, likely will get the ball on short rest.
"We know what need to do," said Giancarlo Stanton, whose two-run homer in the eighth closed the Yankees' deficit to 8-4 and gave him six homers in this year's playoffs, making the slugger the first player in history to homer in each of his team’s first five postseason games.
"It’s win or go home," he added. "It’s OK to have that mentality – backs again the wall – but you have to show up."
Added Aaron Judge: "Win or go home; those are the games I like to play in. We have a squad ready to do that."
Still, after Cole’s solid – and at times spectacular – effort in Game 1, Yankees’ pitching hasn’t been nearly as good as Tampa Bay’s, a concern for the Yanks, who lost eight of 10 regular-season meetings with the Rays, heading into the series.
"I expect us to respond in a great way," manager Aaron Boone said of his team Wednesday night. "I know they’ll be ready [and] excited for the challenge. I know they’ll expect to come in here and get a 'W.' "
They will need better pitching than what Tanaka, a free agent at season’s end, provided and they’ll need to control the Rays’ lineup. Tanaka, 5-3 with a 2.70 ERA in nine previous postseason starts, allowed five runs and eight hits, including two homers, over four innings-plus.
"There’s only frustration there," Tanaka said through his interpreter. "I thought my stuff was better than it was compared to my last outing (Game 2 of the wild-card round in Cleveland) and I thought I was well prepared going into this game. That makes it even more frustrating."
Rays righthander Charlie Morton and his curveball kept the Yankees mostly off balance over five innings in which he allowed two runs and four hits. The Yankees spent a good portion of the early innings angry with plate umpire Mark Carlson’s strike zone,
They scored 36 runs their first four postseason games – and hit 13 homers in those contests – but were held to one Wednesday – it coming, naturally, off the bat of Stanton.
But the Rays, who came in with nine homers this postseason – second most to the Yankees – swatted three more Wednesday night .
"The Rays are pretty good at picking their times to sit on pitches and thinking along with you," said Kyle Higashioka, who seems to have supplanted Gary Sanchez as the starting catcher. "A couple of times there they were one step ahead of us. Maybe we need to be a little more unpredictable next time. They put together some good at-bats and took advantage of some mistakes."
Joey Wendle went 3-for-5 to improve to 6-for-11 in the series, which paled in comparison to ridiculously hot rookie Randy Arozarena, who went 3-for-4 with a homer, improving him to 8-for-12 with three homers in the series.
"We can’t get away with anything against him right now," Higashioka said of Arozarena.
The key inning was the fourth, the score tied at 1.
Wendle led off with a single and Willy Adames, taking a borderline full-count slider that had the Yankees’ dugout incensed, walked, which wiped out what would have been a strike 'em out, thrown 'em out had the pitch been called a strike. Up stepped Kevin Kiermaier, who annihilated a first-pitch hanging breaking ball to deep right to make it 4-1.
"It was definitely disappointing we didn’t get the call," Higashioka said. "[But] we’ve got to move on from that when it happens."