This time the Tampa Bay bullpen held steady.
A day after the Yankees rallied for three runs in the ninth inning to take over first place in the AL East with a walk-off win, Rays pitchers had few hiccups as Tampa Bay earned a 2-1 victory in 11 innings Saturday afternoon in front of 43,074 at the Stadium.
Austin Meadows’ homer to rightfield off Luis Cessa with one out in the 11th gave the Rays (27-16) a lead they would not relinquish and thrust them back ahead of the Yankees (27-17) by a half-game.
Luke Voit led off the bottom of the 11th with a line-drive single off Jose Alvarado, but Aaron Hicks struck out on a 3-and-2 pitch that was out of the strike zone and Gary Sanchez -- who had struck out four times -- hit into a 5-4-3 double play to end it.
“Chased a cutter down in the zone when there was an opportunity there for a walk,” said Hicks, who got ahead of Alvarado 3-and-1 before fouling off a pitch. “Definitely could have changed the outcome of the game.”
Alvarado, who on Friday night had allowed a home run by Voit on his first pitch, a single by Sanchez, a double by Gleyber Torres and a walk-off single by Gio Urshela in coughing up a 3-1 lead, picked up his fifth save.
“Tampa can do that to you,” Aaron Boone said specifically of Sanchez’s struggles but also making a general comment about the Rays’ pitching, which limited the Yankees to eight hits and struck out 15. “They make it about as tough as anyone on you with what they’re able to bring from the pen and obviously with [Blake] Snell going today.”
Masahiro Tanaka was brilliant for a second straight outing, but it came with an asterisk, After allowing three hits, walking none and striking out six in six scoreless innings, he left the game with a 1-0 lead and an injury whose severity is not yet known.
Tanaka suffered a right shin contusion after being hit by a ground smash to end the sixth. X-rays were negative, but it wasn’t immediately clear just how much of a bullet the Yankees dodged.
“Can’t say for now,” Tanaka said through his translator when asked if he thinks he'll be able to make his next start. “We’ll see how it is tomorrow and I guess we can evaluate from there.”
Tommy Kahnle, who brought a 1.06 ERA into the day, allowed a leadoff homer by Brandon Lowe in the seventh.
The Yankees, who even with the loss have won 21 of their last 29 games, went ahead 1-0 in the third. One-out singles by Brett Gardner and DJ LeMahieu and a walk to Voit loaded the bases, and after Hicks struck out, Snell threw a wild pitch before striking out Sanchez.
Hicks was thrown out at the plate by Meadows to end the sixth when he tried to score from second on a single to left by Torres. Third-base coach Phil Nevin initially sent Hicks but then put up the stop sign as he approached the bag -- a tad too late, in the eyes of the runner.
“I saw him early, saw him waving me home,” said Hicks, who was out on a close play and might have been safe with a better slide. “By the time he gave me the stop sign, I was already committed. Took a chance right there to try and score and I didn’t.”
Saturday was a rematch of last Sunday's game in St. Petersburg, Florida, a 7-1 Yankees victory in which Tanaka allowed one run and five hits in seven innings and Snell, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, allowed two runs and four hits in 5 2/3 innings, striking out 12.
Snell struck out nine in six innings on Saturday. Four relievers got the ball to Alvarado, and this time he got past a leadoff hit by Voit and shut down the Yankees.
“Luke has a really good at-bat, Aaron gets in the 3-1 [count], so you are definitely feeling like we’ve got a chance to do something there and you expect it,” Boone said. “But they got us today, and credit to them for making enough pitches.”