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A painful start to Rays-Yankees series

Trouble looms as Tampa Bay loses key players, then the game.
Tommy Pham heads for the dugout after striking out with the bases loaded in the seventh inning. Ji-Man Choi then hits into a double play and the Rays are left trailing the Yankees by the eventual final score, 4-3. [ALLIE GOULDING  |   Times]
Tommy Pham heads for the dugout after striking out with the bases loaded in the seventh inning. Ji-Man Choi then hits into a double play and the Rays are left trailing the Yankees by the eventual final score, 4-3. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]
Published May 11, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — It rained before Friday night’s Rays-Yankees series opener at Tropicana Field. Actually, it poured.

And we don’t mean the weather.

Before the game, Rays catcher Mike Zunino was placed on the 10-day injured list with a quad injury. He could miss four to five weeks.

We were just getting warmed up.

It’s official: The Glasnow is now half full.

Tyler Glasnow, the best pitcher in baseball to start this season (6-0, 1.47 ERA coming in), a veritable sensation, left the series opener in the sixth inning with right forearm tightness, though he left enough runners on base for them to eventually come around to hand him his first loss this season. Glasnow was to be re-evaluated Friday night and today, as will this Rays season.

A 2019 hay ride that had been going well, a 23-13 record, first place in the AL East since March 31, might have taken its first detour.

“Frustrating,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “You have to find a way. We talk about our depth and now we have to rely on different guys who we have confidence in.”

Maybe the Rays caught a bug from the Yankees, who have been decimated by injuries (no Aaron Judge, no Giancarlo Stanton, 13 players on the IL) but now trail the Rays by just half a game after Friday’s 4-3 victory, the winning runs scoring after Glasnow waved to the Rays dugout, pulled himself out, and was replaced by Emilio Pagan.

This weekend was always going to be interesting. The first games against the Yankees always are, and Friday was the first of six in the next 10 days. It might turn out to be more telling than that.

The Yankees flew in after a Thursday night game and didn’t arrive until extremely wee hours. So, they skipped batting practice, which was just as well for Rays fans, who would have missed some majestic practice cuts anyway, as Yankees sluggers Judge and Stanton are injured. Then again, what Yankee isn’t?

But maybe things evened out with the news that Zunino will miss four to five weeks. Hey, it matters, at least enough for the Rays to trade for now former Dodgers catcher Travis d’Arnaud. Then: Glasnow.

This has been a rollicking good start for the Rays. But the 23-15 Yankees have crept close and the defending world champion Red Sox are back to 20-19 despite a split-squad appearance at the White House.

It’s already another 2019 mind-set weekend for Cash’s players. The Rays were swept here by Boston, then went to Fenway Park the following weekend and made a statement, taking both games in a rain-shortened series.

It’s statement time all over again.

Rays-Yankees has always managed. It has always provided. Anywhere you go in great Rays history, you are bound to find Yankees.

When the Rays first rose from the ooze, it was against the Yankees in a spring-training fight in 2008. Joe Maddon and the Rays laid down tracks then and there for a miracle.

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And the seminal moment in Rays history, Game 162 in 2011, that comeback from 7-0 down capped by Evan Longoria’s playoff-clinching home run, came against the Yankees.

Rays-Yankees always matters. They always pull it off. You never know how it will go. Friday, that meant sloppy Rays defense, the highlighter an infield-pop hit off the Trop A-ring. Throw in a glaring missed opportunity, down 4-3 in the seventh but with bases loaded and no outs. Tommy Pham struck out and Ji-Man Choi hit into a double play begun and finished by Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu. Who are those guys? At least we recognized Aroldis Chapman, who closed it out in the ninth.

The Rays are in first, barely, and this AL East thing has just begun. The Yankees, despite those missing players, are in pursuit. Who knows how they are doing it.

“This is a telling month, or six weeks, for New York,” Cash said. “The way they’ve been able to withstand major injuries to the middle of their lineup. A lot of their pitching staff has gone down. We’re all playing the same schedule, they’re right in the thick of it and they’ve been beat up.”

Now the Rays are the ones who are beat up.

Down went Zunino. Then maybe Glasnow.

Anybody hear thunder?

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly


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