ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It had been all plaudits for DJ LeMahieu during the first 34 games of his Yankees career, and deservedly so.
The three-time Gold Glove winner had more than honored those awards in the field, regardless of position, and had been a revelation at the plate, especially with runners in scoring position.
But for one night, even one in which he homered, there were no bouquets. LeMahieu, though not charged with an error on either play, made two mistakes in the sixth inning Saturday night that helped send the Yankees to a 7-2 loss to the Rays in front of a sellout crowd of 25,025 at Tropicana Field.
“Over the course of the season, mistakes are going to happen, even with the best of guys,” Aaron Boone said. “You chalk it up, when the really good ones make a mistake, it’s more fluky.”
The Yankees (23-16), who were held to five hits by four Tampa Bay pitchers, fell 1 1⁄2 games behind the AL East-leading Rays.
After LeMahieu’s second homer of the season tied it at 2 in the top of the sixth, the second baseman made two misplays in the bottom half that helped the Rays score twice for a 4-2 lead.
With losing pitcher Jonathan Holder on the mound — he replaced CC Sabathia, who allowed two runs, three hits and four walks and threw 76 pitches in five innings — Avisail Garcia led off with a single and took off for second with two outs. Gary Sanchez’s accurate, low throw would have made it close, but the ball got past LeMahieu. Garcia went to third and Sanchez was charged with the error.
“I should have had Gary’s ball,” LeMahieu said. “The other two, sometimes you look really good on the shift and sometimes you don’t. Just couldn’t come up with those plays.”
Guillermo Heredia walked and Willy Adames followed with a grounder up the middle. LeMahieu made a nice diving stop on the third-base side of second but bobbled the ball as he tried to get it out of his glove, and Garcia scored on the infield hit to make it 3-2. Ji-Man Choi then grounded one into short right, where LeMahieu was positioned on the shift. He really didn’t have a play and his throw short-hopped Luke Voit, who couldn’t glove it as Heredia scored from second to make it 4-2.
Yandy Diaz, who homered in the third, ripped a three-run shot in the eighth off Nestor Cortes Jr., making his Yankees debut, to give the Rays a 7-2 lead.
Sabathia allowed homers in the second and third to Garcia and Diaz that put the Yankees in a 2-0 hole.
“Just battling,” he said. “Didn’t really have good stuff.”
After LeMahieu’s homer, Yonny Chirinos, who replaced opener Ryan Stanek in the third and pitched four innings, hit Voit on the left shoulder with a 95-mph fastball.
“I’m not saying he was or wasn’t [intentionally throwing at him],” Voit said. “He can hit me anywhere else. It’s just when it’s up and in, it’s a sketchy situation that can be career-ending. After giving up a home run, he’s probably frustrated and throwing as hard as he can and it got away. But that’s why I was so pissed off.”
Sabathia stepped out of the dugout to yell at Chirinos, a scene reminiscent of last September, when Sabathia intentionally hit Jesus Sucre with a pitch in retaliation for Rays righthander Andrew Kittredge throwing one behind Austin Romine’s head an inning earlier. Sabathia wound up getting suspended.
“It’s the same thing. We hit a homer, then they throw up and in. It’s stupid,” a still-irritated Sabathia said. “What are you doing? We don’t want to get into that again. We did that last year.”