NEW YORK — The Rays have shown repeatedly, including twice Thursday in a frustrating doubleheader sweep, they don’t have what it takes to beat the Yankees.
After the 6-2 and 5-1 losses, the Rays are a meager 5-12 against the AL East leaders this year, and that they trail the Yankees by eight games is more than telling about where they stand, with only two games left against New York, and not until late September.
The Rays have more pressing concerns anyway, as they have dropped out of the five-team AL playoff field they had been part of since March 30. The Indians have moved a game ahead of the 56-43 Rays for the top wild card spot, and the A’s, even in losing Thusday, are percentage points ahead for the second spot. (Plus the Red Sox, who come to the Trop on Monday, are only two games behind them.)
The losses Thursday had a common theme: The Rays make too many mistakes, and the Yankees — playing like the “savages” manager Aaron Boone called them in a profane Game 1 outburst at the umpire — repeatedly take advantage of them.
In the first game, the opportunities were a pair of fielding mistakes by Yandy Diaz at third, some unaggressive pitching by starter Yonny Chirinos and a lack of offense after opening the game with two home runs.
In the nightcap, they started out ominously, loading the bases to open the first but not getting anything, then making a mess of the sixth which, started by typically trusty starter Charlie Morton, turned a 1-1 game into 5-1 deficit, including runs scoring on a bases-loaded balk and a walk.
“(The Yankees are) a good team, so it shows up,” manager Kevin Cash said. “That’s what good teams do. They’re going to make the most of every opportunity that’s presented, and they certainly have done that to date against us.”
The Yankees domination has been clear, headlined by winning eight of 10 against the Rays this year in the Bronx. They find a way to pull out most of the close games and break open others. Through 17 games between the teams, they’ve outscored the Rays 95-50.
"They find a way,'' Morton said.
The Rays took a 1-0 lead in the second game on a third-inning double by rookie Nate Lowe, but that again was all they got. Luke Voit’s fifth-inning homer off Morton, who went in leading the AL with a 2.35 ERA, tied it.
Then things got really messy.
The sixth started with Morton allowing a leadoff double on the first pitch, then back-to-back one-out walks to load the bases. Catcher Mike Zunino made a late, and thus bad, decision to call time, and Morton stopped his delivery, resulting in the run-scoring balk. That was followed by a two-run single by Didi Gregorius, with a throwing error by centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier. Then there was a single and another walk by Morton to re-load the bases. Andrew Kittredge took over, and he walked in a run.
Zunino took the blame for the balk, saying he “saw something that I wasn’t comfortable about,” likely in the Rays defensive alignment and pitch selection, but didn’t act fast enough as Morton was using a quick delivery.
Morton, who walked three in the inning, said the balk wasn’t the issue as the run would have scored anyway.
"What stood out to me was bases loaded, and how did I get there,'' he said. "The balk was just part of the madness that was the sixth inning.''
Cash said Morton’s work wasn’t the issue, noting he held the Yankees to one run until the sixth. “I thought he was outstanding,'' Cash said. "Really, really good. That lineup doesn’t go five innings without scoring very often, other than Luke’s home run.”
Rather, Cash laid it on the offense, saying “the big story” was them not scoring in the first after loading the bases against opener Chad Green.
"We have gotten to the point this season we’re we’ve talked about making the most of opportunities and we’re just not getting it done,'' Cash said. "It’s putting all kinds of pressure on our pitching staff, and themselves on defense when they’re out there. With nothing to work with, it’s challenging.”
The first game was a reminder of how seemingly every mistake the Rays make is taken advantage of by the Yankees. Even worse, the Rays bolted to a 2-0 lead on game-starting homers by Austin Meadows and Diaz.
But Diaz didn’t catch a somewhat windblown popup in the second inning, and it led to the Yankees scoring twice to tie it. Then Diaz didn’t make the play on a sharp grounder in the fifth, and the Yankees ended up scoring three.
Chirinos wasn’t at his best, but the two defensive missteps were factors as he allowed five runs (four earned) and nine hits while striking out eight over five innings, needing 104 pitches to get there.
Cash was more focused on how Chirinos got there, noting how his pace slowed to a crawl when the Yankees threatened.
“Yonny is still a young pitcher, but we’ve got to adjust off that. When guys get on second base, it seems like the whole momentum of the game shifts, goes slower,’’ Cash said. “It puts the advantage with New York. They have a bunch of good hitters. We already know they’re going to make you throw a lot of pitches, but it seemed like the time in between pitches added up.’’
The score was 2-2 going to the decisive fifth.
Aaron Judge singled and Aaron Hicks doubled to start the inning, which Cash clearly wanted Chirinos to get through. Chirinos struck out Edwin Encarnacion, and then Gary Sanchez lashed a hard grounder to third. Diaz couldn’t handle it, or even knock it down, allowing Judge to score to put the Yankees up 3-2.
A two-out shift-beating single by Voit made it 4-2, and Cash stuck with Chirinos, who was nearing 100 pitches, to face Gio Urshela, who’d homered and singled, and he beat Chirinos for a third time, with a double to make it 5-2.
Cash said he didn’t think Chirinos was losing effectiveness in what ended up a five-hit inning. “You could make the argument we shouldn’t have given up a run,’’ he said. “A ground ball is played and then a fly ball and we’re out of the inning.’’
The 2-0 lead came with some history.
It was just the second time in the Rays’ 22 seasons they hit back-to-back homers to lead off the first inning. The other was in their inaugural season, when Quinton McCracken and Wade Boggs did it June 15, 1998.
The Rays came out swinging against Domingo German with a purpose.
They lost the lead late and then the game Tuesday. Then Wednesday’s game was postponed due to forecast severe weather, which forced the Rays to play the doubleheader. And then they had to sit through a nearly 1 ½ hour threat-of-rain delay before they finally got started.
The problem was that after the two homers, the Rays got only three hits the rest of the night, and they came up short once again.
“It’s not tough, but we haven’t been able to score runs,’’ Diaz said. “They’ve capitalized on all of their moments and we haven’t. They’ve just scored more runs.”
After playing three series against the Yankees in less than a month, the Rays are glad they won’t see them for a while.
"Good,'' Cash said. "That’s fine by me.''
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.