NEW YORK — The Rays had seen this game before.
They got a solid outing from their starter. Took a lead over the Yankees. Made some mistakes along the way that piled up. And then they gave up the lead late.
That all played out familiarly and frustratingly Monday night in the opener of a somewhat critical four-game series with the AL East leaders.
But they never saw it turn out like this.
Down by two runs and down to their last strike, the Rays got a stunning three-run home run from Travis d’Arnaud — his team record-tying third homer of the night — and ended up celebrating a thrilling 5-4 win.
“Happy for Travis, happy for the guys,” manager Kevin Cash said. “It was a big win. Nice comeback. Something we haven’t been able to do here. So that was good.”
For d’Arnaud, who became the fourth player in Rays franchise history to hit three homers in a game and has a new best career regular-season game moment, surpassing his July 6 walkoff homer that beat the Yankees at the Trop.
“It’s the coolest night ever," d’Arnaud said.
And for the Rays, who for the first time in their 22-season history beat the Yankees after trailing by multiple runs in the ninth inning or later.
“It’s huge,’’ said reliever Andrew Kittredge, who went from loser to winner. “Any win is a big win, but especially against these guys.
“We know how good they are over there. And especially in this building, it seems like at times they're almost unbeatable. .. To lose (the lead) like that and then come back and get the win is huge.’’
The victory improved the Rays to 56-40 and moved them to within five games of first place.
And it gave them a boost of confidence given how mightily they’d struggled in the Bronx, losing five of the first six this season, 32 of the first 44 games on Cash’s watch and 14 of their last 15 series.
“We have not done the little things that can help us win games here in the late innings,’’ Cash said. “Travis certainly did today.’’
D’Arnaud, the ex-Met acquired in May from the Dodgers when the Rays were scrambling for catching help, got started early on his career night, having never gone deep three times in a game before at any level, pro, high school or youth league.
“My first time,’’ he said.
Batting leadoff, d’Arnaud homered in the first inning off Yankees starter James Paxton, and then again in the third.
Blake Snell allowed one, on an Edwin Encarnacion homer, over his five innings, and the Rays, hurting themselves with a trio of baserunning mistakes by Tommy Pham, Avisail Garcia and Willy Adames Cash collectively called “atrocious,’’ hung on to a 2-1 lead.
After getting five outs from a seemingly improved Diego Castillo, Cash turned to one of his most reliable relievers, Emilio Pagan, to finish the seventh. He promptly gave up a game-tying homer to Gio Urshela.
Then Kittredge came on for the eighth. He got two outs, allowed a single and then the big blast, a two-run homer by Encarnacion, whom the Yankees got from the Mariners and, somewhere along the way is getting $5 million of Rays money that was kicked into the December deal that brought Yandy Diaz to Tampa Bay.
Here, it seemed, they were going again.
“Certainly,’’ Cash admitted, “that feeling had to have crept into a lot of guys’ minds.’’
And with reason.
Before Monday, the Rays held leads in 32 of their last 46 games (69.6 percent) at the Stadium but only hung on to win 12 (26.1 percent).
But those Rays didn’t have d’Arnaud, who may get mentioned in the same breath, or tweet, as Dan Johnson in terms of dramatic regular-season homers in franchise history.
The Rays started the ninth against Yankees flame-throwing lefty closer Aroldis Chapman with a single by Kevin Kiermaier, then another by Guillermo Heredia. Chapman came back to strike out Adames and Joey Wendle, bringing up d’Arnaud.
He went to the plate with a simple plan from hitting coach Chad Mottola.
“Motor just reminded me to stay short and that’s all that was in my head,’’ d’Arnaud said. “Stay short and see the ball and fortunately I was able to put us back in the lead.’’
It wasn’t that simple, as d’Arnaud battled through a great at-bat, falling behind 1-and-2, fouling off two 100-plus mph fastballs, taking two sliders and then launching the next one just beyond the reach of Aaron Judge and over ther
“I was just trying to get on base,’’ d’Arnaud said. “I didn’t want to try to be too greedy with Chapman out there because he’s so good. I got lucky and hit the ball on the barrel.’’
D’Arnaud said he was more excited for the team, which he noted, going back to the series before the break, had now beaten the Yankees three straight.
He poked fun at himself for nearly missing the team bus from the hotel to the stadium because he mixed up the time. He shrugged off a question about being a Yankee killer. He said only that he was excited to be back playing in New York.
But, he allowed this much:
“It was a lot of fun.’’
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.