|Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman battling Travis d'Arnaud in the ninth inning Monday night. Photo by Jason Schott.|
The Tampa Bay Rays got a stunning 5-4 win over the Yankees on Monday night at The Stadium, as ex-Met Travis d'Arnaud led the way with three home runs.
This was just the fifth time in Tampa Bay's franchise history that someone hit three or more homers in a game, with Evan Longoria the last Ray to do it on October 3, 2012.
Despite this setback, the Yankees entered this four-game set with the Rays in far better shape than when their American League East rivals first came to New York this season in May.
The Rays led the division from Opening Day until May 17th, when the Yankees came from behind against them in the ninth inning, and won it on a Gio Urhsela walk-off hit. Tampa Bay won the next day in extra innings to reclaim first before the Yankees won the season finale.
Since then, Tampa Bay took over first place for two days, June 10 and 14, and by a half-game.
The following week, Tampa Bay came into New York and the Yankees swept them handily in a three-game set capped by a 12-1 win on June 19, in which they knocked out Tampa Bay's ace, Blake Snell, in the first inning. CC Sabathia also earned his 250th career win that day.
The Yankees opened up a three-and-a-half-game lead with that sweep, and it built up to an eight-and-a-half-game lead on July 5 when the Yankees finished off back-to-back wins in extra innings in St. Petersburg.
Tampa won the final games of that four-game set at home to cut it to a six-and-a-half game deficit at the All-Star break, and the Yankees entered Monday with a six-game lead.
On Monday afternoon in his pregame press conference, Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said of Tampa Bay, "They're real, obviously they beat us the last couple games, and before that, we had some success against them, but they're always a grind. Obviously, they're really good at the run-prevention part of things, so they're tough to score against even if you're doing some things well. It's one of those games where you have to kind of be at your best as a group to have a chance to have success offensively, and then, offensively, you know, they can hurt you."
The Rays sent Snell to the mound on Monday night looking to avenge how it went for him the last time it went in The Bronx.
The Yankees sent a lefty of their own to the mound, James Paxton, in his first outing since July 7, in which he came up short in a 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay.
d'Arnaud didn't waste any time, as he led off the game with a home run to right field, just over the auxiliary scoreboard. He hit one to the exact same spot for a solo homer in the third to make it 2-0.
Snell got a lift early when he got Aaron Judge to bounce into a double play in the first. Snell let out a big scream when the play was being completed, perhaps mindful that he didn't get out of the opening frame the last time he was in this ballpark.
The Yankees got on the board in the fourth when Edwin Encarnacion launched a solo home run into the left field corner to make it 2-1 Tampa Bay. The amazing thing is that Encarnacion just missed hitting one out on the pitch before, as it was just to the left of the foul pole.
Paxton worked out of trouble all night, helped by his defense, as Judge threw out Avisail Garcia trying to get to third base on a hit by Kevin Kiermaier in the fourth. In the following inning, Gary Sanchez threw out Willy Adames at second base when he took a big lead off the bag when Joey Wendle tried a bunt attempt.
In the sixth, Paxton ran into trouble again when Yandy Diaz got a one-out walk and then Garcia walked.
Paxton was at 100 pitches at that moment, and Boone ran out to talk with him to gauge how he was, and he elected to leave him in the game.
That turned out to be the right move, as Paxton struck out Kiermaier and got Guillermo Heredia to bounce out to shortstop to end the threat.
Snell did not come back for the bottom of the sixth, and his final line was: 5 innings, 3 hits, 1 run (earned), 2 walks, and 4 strikeouts.
Diego Castillo was first out of the Tampa Bay bullpen, and he pitched a solid 1 2/3 innings before being lifted with two outs in the seventh.
Emilio Pagan came in to face Gio Urshela, who launched a bomb to left for a solo shot to tie the game at 2. Brett Gardner followed with a walk, and DJ LeMahieu singled to keep the inning going before Judge struck out.
Chad Green, who pitched a scoreless seventh out of the Yankee bullpen, stayed on and retired Tampa Bay in order in the top of the eighth.
With Andrew Kittredge on for Tampa Bay in the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees got a two-out rally going when Aaron Hicks singled and then Encarnacion launched another blast to left for a two-run shot to make it 4-2 Yankees.
That was the second of the night for Encarnacion, giving him 27 on the season. All three Yankee homers in this one came with two outs.
Aroldis Chapman came on in the ninth for the save, and he allowed a hit to Kiermaier down the left field line, and then a single to right to Heredia. He then struck out Adames and Wendle, and that brought d'Arnaud up.
In an at-bat that turned into quite a battle, and with the count 3-2, d'Arnaud launched a blast to right that just cleared the fence for his third homer of the night to give the Rays a 5-4 lead.
d'Arnaud became just the third leadoff hitter to hit three home runs in the original or current Yankee Stadium, regular season or postseason, joining George Brett of the Kansas City Royals (Game 3 of the 1978 ALCS) and current Yankee Aaron Hicks (July 1, 2018).
This was the second time in ten days that d'Arnaud got a game-winning homer against the Yankees (how many guys can say that?), as he hit a walk-off against Green on July 6 in Tampa.
"Great at-bat by d'Arnaud there to finish it off," Boone said of the Tampa Bay catcher's prowess against his team. "You know, Kiermaier battled (Chapman) and squibbed one to get things started and then Heredia jumped him, but I thought he threw the ball fine. d'Arnaud did a good job of laying off of some tough pitches when Chappy was ahead in the count, and finally got a mistake, and finished off what was a pretty great night, obviously.
"All of his at-bats were really good, I mean, it's just kind of what we've seen from him. He hurt us, obviously, down in Tampa as well. I just thought he had, obviously, really good at-bats. He jumped, got a couple of fastballs - looked like in the heart of the plate - that he took advantage of those against Paxton, but then, you know, his next at-bat, I think it was against Greenie, where he had a walk, just all night long, laying off tough pitches, spoiling pitches, you know, really good at-bats and, obviously, he was the difference."
The Rays (56-40) are now within five games of the Yankees (59-33), the closest they have been since June 24.