Zack Britton’s return to the role of setup man was anything but spectacular Wednesday night.
The lefthander had little go right in the eighth inning when he gave up a pair of Tampa Bay runs in a 4-2 victory over the Yankees at the Stadium.
Britton may have been trying to pitch through some discomfort. He appeared to grab the back of his left leg as he was exiting the game and team medical staff was examining him after the game. The Yankees will have a status report on Britton Thursday.
The Yankees (16-8) will go into Thursday in first place in the AL East for the 22nd straight day, but their grip on it has become very precarious. The Rays (16-9) trail by a half-game and can wrest the division lead away with a win in the teams’ 1 p.m. series finale. The Rays are 5-1 against the Yanks this season.
“Obviously they've got a really, really good team,” Brett Gardner said. “They're one of the best teams in the American League and in order for us to get to where we want to be at the end of the year and be the last team standing, that's one of the teams that we've got to figure out and get through.”
Britton had been filling in for closer Aroldis Chapman while he recovered from COVID-19 and went 8-for-8 in save opportunities, notching his eighth Sunday in his previous appearance. Chapman was activated Monday.
Britton relieved Gerrit Cole with two outs in the seventh inning and got an inning-ending strikeout. He started the eighth by getting a ground ball down the first-base line from Yandy Diaz that Luke Voit grabbed and threw from his knees, but it went off the end of Britton’s glove and Diaz ended up on second because of the error on the reliever. A wild pitch and a walk to Brandon Lowe put runners on the corners and Gio Urshela gloved Jose Martinez’ grounder and threw home to cut down Diaz at the plate.
Pinch hitter Mike Brosseau lined a single to centerfield to score Lowe from second for a 3-2 lead and Willy Adames followed with a single to right to score Martinez and make it 4-2.
“He lost Lowe with the walk but gets the groundout on Martinez there to set up first and second still with a tie score,” manager Aaron Boone said. “With Britt that’s always one pitch away, but Brosseau got it and was able to drive the run in.”
After delivering his last pitch to Adames, Britton grimaced as he reached for the back of his left leg. Boone said he was being evaluated.
Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez led off the ninth with a pair of five-pitch walks. They moved into scoring position on a wild pitch. The Rays’ Jalen Beeks came on with one out and struck out pinch hitter Miguel Andujar and Thairo Estrada to end the game.
Much of the game was a pitchers' duel between Yankees ace Gerrit Cole and the Rays' high-octane righty Tyler Glasnow, but neither ended up with a decision.
Cole allowed a pair of runs six hits and a walk, striking out 10 in 6 2/3 innings. The runs came on homers by Ji-man Choi in the second inning and Mike Zunino in the third. Glasnow allowed two runs, two hits and three walks with seven strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings. He gave up Luke Voit’s ninthhome run, tying him with Aaron Judge for the team lead. The homer was Voit's third in three games.
“I thought that’s about as dominant as we’ve seen him,” Boone said of Cole. “It was good swing by Choi and two strike mistake to Zunino, who put a charge in one. Other than that, I thought he was in total command.”
Cole appeared ticked off to come out of the game in the seventh. Asked about failing to control his emotions in the dugout after coming out, he replied, “it isn’t the easiest thing.”
The Voit homer – in the third inning – made it 2-1 and the Yankees evened the score in the sixth when Aaron Hicks tripled and scored on Gio Urshela’s sacrifice fly. They left two men on though in that inning, a man on third in the seventh and the two runners in scoring position in the ninth. The Yanks were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.