ST. PETERSBURG — The excitement in rookie reliever C.J. Riefenhauser's eyes from the day before was replaced by a telling redness.
The thrill of his first appearance in the majors — against the Yankees team he grew up cheering for, no less — was wiped away by the agony of his direct hand in Sunday's 5-1, 12-inning defeat, then the not unexpected news that he was being sent back to Triple-A Durham.
"Tough day," Riefenhauser said. "It was a little emotional."
Manager Joe Maddon put Riefenhauser in a tight spot — and, for what it's worth, had no second thoughts — with one of his unconventional, though not unprecedented, moves, ordering an intentional walk with runners on first and third to load the bases with two outs in a 1-1 game.
The upside was Riefenhauser was facing rookie Dean Anna rather than All-Star Jacoby Ellsbury, and he got it. The downside was he had no margin for error, and he got that, too.
After getting ahead 1-and-2, Riefenhauser lost a tense eight-pitch battle on a questionable checked-swing call on a slurve just beneath the zone and walked in the decisive run.
"I have all the faith in the world in that young man (Riefenhauser)," Maddon said. "Quite frankly, I would do it again. I believed he would get this guy out. It was just one of those moments that didn't happen."
Maddon was mildly frustrated with the umpires for the inconsistency in their interpretations of the "ill-defined" rule on check swings. He was more disappointed in the performance — or more precisely, lack of — by his hitters, especially after totaling 27 runs the previous two nights and facing fill-in starter Vidal Nuno.
"You think you might've turned somewhat of an offensive corner in terms of really good at-bats and making hard contact, and we just didn't have that," he said. "We needed to take more charge of that game offensively. I thought we should have."
What they didn't do, totaling six hits and going 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, was bad. And a couple of things they did wrong made it worse.
A chance for a walkoff celebration in the 11th was sabotaged. First Wil Myers, after reaching on an error by Anna (who replaced Derek Jeter at short), failed to at least try to tag up on a James Loney fly to deep left, instead going halfway then retreating, admitting later he "thought about it."
"We were screaming for him to do that," Maddon said. "I still don't think he could have made it because (leftfielder) Brett Gardner has such a good arm, but it was still the right thing to do."
Then with one out, rookie outfielder Brandon Guyer missed a sign on a hit and run, resulting in Myers being thrown out easily trying to get to second. Guyer then struck out.
A game that featured an improved performance by Rays fill-in starter Cesar Ramos (five innings, four hits) and a pair of instant replay reversals (one for the Yankees on a Myers catch in right in the fourth, one for the Rays on an Ichiro Suzuki stolen base in the 11th) crawled past the 4-hour mark before an Easter crowd of 26,462.
And then it came down to Riefenhauser, the 24-year-old New Yorker who grew up watching the Bronx Bombers from the Yankee Stadium bleachers.
Coming in after Heath Bell walked the leadoff man in the 12th, Riefenhauser got a comebacker by Gardner and a lineout. But he allowed a single to Brian McCann that sent Gardner to third.
Maddon came out with instructions to walk Ellsbury — 0-for-5 at that point — showing confidence in his rookie lefty but also putting the game in his hands.
"You dream about it," Riefenhauser said. "It just didn't fall my way today."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]om.