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Yankees yearn to regain upper hand against Rays

DJ LeMahieu of the Yankees tags out Joey

DJ LeMahieu of the Yankees tags out Joey Wendle of the Rays in the fifth inning at Yankee Stadium on Monday. Credit: Getty Images/Mike Stobe

Once upon a time, say about 10 to 20 years ago, — the mighty Yankees made a routine of demolishing the Rays. There were the Rays first two years in baseball, when the Yankees won 19 of their 26 meetings. And in the full first decade of the new millennium, the Rays were responsible for an extra 114 ticks in the Yankees win column (those Yankees only lost 64 of those meetings).

But stories have a way of quickly shifting, especially these days, and while the Rays have long since achieved respectability, they’ve never quite done this: Thoroughly and consistently defeated their previous tormentors.

And frankly, the Yankees would like the old narrative back.

Going into Tuesday’s game, the Yankees were 1-7 against the Rays, having long lost possession of first place in the American League and now teetering on the brink of third. Half of their losses have come from this team they can’t quite solve, and with less than half the shortened season left, the consensus is they need to figure it out, and fast. 

“We understand that we’re up against an excellent team, one of the best teams in baseball, and if you don’t play a complete game, you’re going to have a hard time beating them,” Boone said. “You’ve got be resilient in this game. You’ve got to be able to turn the page. It’s a game where, especially from a position player standpoint, it’s a game where you deal with failure a lot and you’ve got to be able to.”

And though it certainly has to be frustrating — especially since the Yankees are missing so many big bats because of injuries — Boone said he didn’t believe his team’s confidence has been shaken. There are reasons they’ve struggled, he said, including injuries and a grueling schedule — the implication being: It’s not that we’re just not good enough.

“We’ve played a number of close games with them that haven’t gone our way,” he said. “You’re going to go through that in a season . . . We’ve played them through some tough stretches.”

Though there is a respite on the horizon — this series is the last time they face them in the regular season — there is every possibility that there could be a rematch in October. And for a team that’s been battered and bruised, that has temporarily lost Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, and that is getting less than optimal results from its ace, Gerrit Cole, that’s a tough proposition.

“The mindset is that we have to play better,” Mike Tauchman said. “That’s really the bottom line. They’re obviously a talented team but in order to get to where we want to be, we have to beat talented teams. We just have to play better.”

Tauchman acknowledged that he and his teammates might be pressing a little — trying to compensate for gaps in the lineup, and the way the Rays have played them. But he prefers that to the alternative.

“I think that baseball is an incredibly difficult game and I think that sometimes there’s a sense of trying to do too much when the results aren’t there or the team isn't playing the way they want to," he said. "It can be difficult to not try to get a bad week back in one swing . . . [but] I’d rather press than not care at all, and I think we have a lot of guys that take a lot of pride in their ability and want to come through for the team.”

As long as they figure it out soon, because once the calendar flips, these new tormentors will likely be waiting.

New York Sports