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Rays blow two-run lead in ninth, lose game and first place to Yankees

Tampa Bay rallies to take a 3-1 lead in the eighth but, after a rain delay, Jose Alvarado blows the save in the series opener.

NEW YORK — The Rays lost plenty on Friday.

A game they seemed to have won, a two-run advantage in the ninth evolving into a frustrating 4-3 walkoff loss to the Yankees.

Their six-week plus hold on first place in the American League East, as thet fell a half-game behind the Yankees.

And maybe just a little dash of the confidence that had understandably swelled given the previously dominant work of Jose Alvarado, who failed them miserably in the ninth.

“There’s no excuse for what happened,’’ Alvarado said, via team translator Manny Navarro. “That’s part of the game. It’s going to happen. …

“It was just one of those days where it wasn’t my day. And they just beat me.’’

Until then, the Rays looked to be in position to beat the Yankees as well as a 35-minute rain delay in the bottom of the eighth.

A game that featured good pitching by opener Ryne Stanek and Yonny Chirinos for the Rays and CC Sabathia for the Yankees went to the eighth 1-1, and then the visitors took charge.

Doubles by Daniel Robertson and Brandon Lowe got them one run, and Kevin Kiermaier’s hustle to first on a grounder to short forced an errant throw that plated the other.

Diego Castillo came on to start the eighth for the Rays and, after the delay got impressively down to business with a 1-2-3 inning.

But then Alvarado, who had allowed only two runs, and one extra base hit, in his first 18 outings in posting a 1.04 ERA, took over in the ninth and it turned quickly into a lost night.

“I don’t know if anything “wasn’t clicking,” it looked like he didn’t finish guys off and normally you do,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “But you’ve got to credit (them). … They just had a lot of good at-bats against him.’’

That started right away, as Luke Voit, who had four hits on the night, mashed the first pitch for a homer to right center.

Alvarado then gave up a single to Gary Sanchez and, after a strikeout, lost a tough 10-pitch battle with Gleyber Torres, who laced a double over the head of leftfielder Tommy Pham, in what was the key at-bat of the inning.

“Spoiled a bunch of good pitches,’’ Cash said. “A couple from the side, I think I looked at (bench coach Matt Quatraro) and said, “How’s he even touching that ball?” They looked like they were going to bounce around his shins. He’s a good player.’’

That put the tying run on third and the winner on second and, after an intentional walk loaded the bases, the end was near.

“They must have been ready,’’ Alvarado said. “I was doing everything I can to put the ball in play just like I normally do. But they must have been sitting on my fastball and they won.''

A wild pitch that new catcher Travis d’Arnaud couldn’t handle allowed the tying run to score. A grounder to third turned into the second out at home. But then Gio Urshela won it with a drive over Kiermaier’s head in center.

It was obvious Alvarado, who had converted his first four save opportunities though lost two games, wasn’t fooling anyone with his high octane fastball.

“They must have remembered what I throwing to them the last time out in the last series,’’ he said. “You could tell they were all sitting the same pitch. They all seemed pretty comfortable up there.’’

The win allowed the Yankees, at 27-16, to wrest first place from the 26-16 Rays, who had held it since March 31.

Obviously, they have much longer-term goals in mind.

“You like to be the top team more days than not, you’d be lying to say otherwise,’’ Kiermaier said before the game. “But at the same time, this is why you play 162 games. With this division, I think it’s safe to say with us, the Yankees and Red Sox, there’s going to be a lot of shuffling around throughout the course of the season.

“Each team is going to have their hot streaks, and each team is going to have the humbling times. You want to hold the top spot more times than not, but it’s just a headline right now. We want to be the top dog coming into the last day of the season and into the postseason.’’

With 120 games still to play, the Rays are quite aware of how much more they have to do to end up on top.

“It means we’re doing stuff right, but there’s definitely a lot of stuff I see that we could do better that I’m going to keep to myself and talk to my team about,’’ said Blake Snell, the Rays’ Saturday starter.

“We’re good, but I still feel like there’s a whole other level we can get to and I’m excited to see us do that. “All these guys work hard, so it’s good to see that. And they all have the right attitude. So I still think there’s a lot left for us to do to improve, and I think we’re going to get there.’’

The Rays came in having led the division alone since March 31, a streak of 47 straight days that was the third longest in franchise history. Friday, by the Rays’ count, was the 13th time they played a game with first place in the balance, having now gone 6-7.

“No doubt anytime you get walked off it’s tough,’’ Cash said. “We did a lot of things good, we just came up short. … Tough to lose a ballgame that way.’’

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.