ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays were back home at Tropicana Field on Tuesday, and it seemed like they had never left.
In a 3-1 loss to the Yankees, any signs of an awakening by the offense on the just completed 5-2 West Coast trip were missing. The Rays looked much more like the team that lost 6-of-10 in the previous homestand, averaging just 2.5 runs a game.
Mike Zunino launched a 472-foot homer, and just missed another, but that was it as the Rays managed just three hits on the night, struck out 11 times and were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.
“I’d like to think that we can find a way to put (on) a little bit more pressure,” manager Kevin Cash said.
The Rays (19-18) don’t want to think their problems have anything to do with playing under the tilted roof, where they are just 7-11. More that it’s just been an extended run of facing good pitching — especially from lefty starters (going 7-7, hitting .190, 48 points lower than against right-handers) — with New York’s Jordan Montgomery the latest to stymie them.
“I obviously can’t really put anything to it,” said Austin Meadows. “I think it’s just the way hitting goes sometimes. I think for us, running into obviously a good starter (Tuesday) and a good staff all around, you’re going to have those days. ...
“Chalk this one up. We had a great road trip and we’re going to continue to try to build off of that and continue to put good at-bats together and try to win games.”
After the previous rough homestand, the Rays went on the offensive, scoring 26 runs in a four-game sweep of the Angels and 34 total for the seven-game swing. Cash insists they are capable of being that team more often than the one that has struggled at home. They have scored two or fewer runs nine times, hitting .205 (vs. .231 on the road) and .139 with runners in scoring position (compared to .249) at the Trop.
“I do think it’s been extended, it’s been longer than what we’d like,” Cash said. “That we’re finding ways to win some games throughout that stretch is nice. But at some point, our confidence, my confidence, is there that we’re going to get out of it. We’re going to start putting some bigger numbers up on the scoreboard as far as runs go.”
They fell behind early Tuesday, in front an announced, and distanced, crowd of 5,441, in losing to the Yankees for the second time in seven games this season, and fourth in 18 regular-season meetings since Sept. 24, 2019.
Luis Patino, the 21-year-old serving as an extended opener, gave up a two-out homer to Aaron Judge in the first inning. Then another run in a messy sequence in the third: A leadoff single by DJ LeMahieu, a four-pitch walk to Giancarlo Stanton and two passed balls by Zunino, one on what he said was “miscommunication” with Patino, the other a slider that got away.
Zunino got one run right back with his massive homer to the left of center, his team-high matching seventh of the season. The 472-foot measurement matched the fourth longest in Trop history and tops since the 2015 implementation of the more precise Statcast measurements.
The three longer homers, from the days of press box estimates, were all by Rays: 478 feet by Vinny Castilla on April 4, 2001; 474 feet, Jonny Gomes, July 9, 2005; 473 feet, Evan Longoria, April 6, 2010. Texas’ Ivan Rodriguez (2001) and the Rays’ Jose Canseco (2000) also had 472-foot blasts.
The Rays wasted a prime chance with two on and one out in the fourth, and the Yankees added a run on Gary Sanchez’s seventh-inning homer off Josh Fleming, who, like Patino, worked four solid innings.
The Rays looked to get a break in the ninth when shortstop Gleyber Torres’ error allowed Meadows to reach first. But he was thrown out trying to get to second when an Aroldis Chapman pitch got by Sanchez, but caromed hard off the wall and right back to him for an easy throw.
“You don’t see that happen very often,” Cash said.
There’s been a few things like that at the Trop this year.