ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays got nearly eight innings of quality pitching — seven of the no-hit variety — from Erasmo Ramirez on Monday night to start a three-game series against the Yankees. And one bad inning from closer Brad Boxberger.
Staked to a 1-0 lead in the ninth, Boxberger gave up four runs with two outs and nobody on base. The Rays couldn't recover in the bottom half, losing 4-1 in front of 11,940 at Tropicana Field.
"Another tough loss," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Erasmo was outstanding. We just couldn't hold the lead."
Ramirez took a no-hitter into the eighth inning before giving up a leadoff single to Carlos Beltran. It was the deepest any Rays pitcher has gone this season before giving up a hit. He is also the sixth pitcher in Rays history to carry a no-hitter into the eighth inning. But when he left with two outs in the eighth in a scoreless tie, he wasn't able to get a decision.
Pinch-hitter Dustin Ackley singled to open the ninth inning, but Jacoby Ellsbury then hit into a first-to-second double play. That appeared to end the Yankees' threat, but it was really just beginning.
Brett Gardner walked on four pitches and stole second. Alex Rodriguez doubled to right-center to tie the score. Brian McCann was intentionally walked to put two men on. Rookie Slade Heathcott then put Boxberger's first pitch into the leftfield seats to make it 4-1. It was Heathcott's second homer this season.
"I'm on Cloud 9," Heathcott said. "I found a good pitch to hit and put a good hurt on it."
Boxberger, who had never faced Heathcott, didn't expect him to get to his fastball.
"I just wanted to pitch to my strengths," said Boxberger, who blew his sixth save of the season. "I just left the ball up and I didn't expect him to swing at the first pitch. He did a good job of getting the barrel on the ball."
The Rays (69-74) got their run well after Yankees starter CC Sabathia exited. Sabathia pitched 62/3 innings and gave up only three hits. It wasn't until there were two outs in the eighth that Tampa Bay was able to scratch out a run.
Mikie Mahtook singled off reliever Justin Wilson with one out. After Evan Longoria struck out, Logan Forsythe doubled off the leftfield wall to score Mahtook. The run snapped a 21-inning scoreless streak for the Rays.
Ramirez did all he could to help the Rays win. Aside from the one hit, he struck out six and walked two. Prior to Monday night, he had not gone more than five innings in his previous three starts.
"The difference was about how I attacked the hitters," Ramirez said. "I just used the fastball, changeup the whole time. It was a great job between the catcher and pitcher."
The Yankees came close to breaking up the no-hitter with one out in the seventh. After Gardner walked to lead off the inning, Rodriguez hit a fielder's choice groundout that put Gardner on second. McCann then laced a deep fly to rightfield, but Mahtook made a leaping catch at the wall then threw to second to double off Gardner and end the inning.
"When he made the play I felt my soul come back to my body," Ramirez said. "After that play, my mind was just set up to continue being aggressive and keep the ball down."
This was not the first time a pitcher had come close to a no-hitter at Tropicana Field this season. On July 1, Cleveland's Carlos Carrasco had a no-hitter through 82/3 innings until Joey Butler singled to break it up.
This also was not the first time the Rays had blown a ninth-inning lead. Cash said despite the result, he will use Boxberger again.
"Brad Boxberger has to be good for us and he's been good for us," Cash said. "We're not going to go where we need to be without him pitching in big innings for us."