ST. PETERSBURG — At least this time the Rays had an excuse.
Shut down by much less impressive pitchers during a spotty — among other applicable adjectives — offensive showing much of the season, they were shut out Wednesday by arguably the best. Yankees ace Gerrit Cole tormented them for eight innings before Aroldis Chapman finished in a 1-0 loss.
The Rays were well aware how tough Cole can be, even with some past success — including pinning him with his only loss in an April game — and he may have been even better this time.
They managed four hits, though one was a pop fly that caromed off a catwalk and another a bunt single by Brandon Lowe, while striking out 12 times, including in two of the four at-bats with runners in scoring position.
“Pretty special night for a guy that is really, really good,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “You go into the game knowing your hands are full. But, saying that, he was probably (Wednesday) above and beyond. He had everything working the way he wanted.”
The loss dropped the Rays back to .500 for the 10th time at 19-19, marking their first series loss to the Yankees since July 2019, having won six straight.
The win meant a lot to the Yankees (20-16) beyond beating the rival Rays, as they have been dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak that had grown to seven (three coaches and four staff members), plus shortstop Gleyber Torres being held out pending test results.
Though Cole called it “a nice game” and too early to deem it one of his best, he was pleased to hear manager Aaron Boone laud him for stepping up in a tough situation.
“That’s a really nice compliment,” Cole said. “I certainly enjoy playing in meaningful games. There was a lot going on today, and it was a bit challenging getting focused for the game. But once you’re there, it’s business as usual. Try to keep that mindset all the time, and I think it’s a little more helpful when there’s more on the line.”
The Rays’ quintet of pitchers — Collin McHugh, Ryan Yarbrough, Ryan Thompson, Jeffrey Springs and Louis Head — was nearly as good.
The Yankees got their run in the seventh. Thompson, working an occasionally troubling second inning, allowed a leadoff single to Aaron Judge, then a first-pitch double to Gio Urshela.
“The second inning is a challenge, it always is,” Thompson said. “But there’s never a time where I go out there and say, ‘Oh, no, I don’t have it this inning.’ … I threw a lot of strikes, I threw a lot of quality strikes. The pitch I threw to Urshela was a really good pitch. Just a better swing.”
After Thompson got one out, Cash went to the lefty Springs to turn around switch-hitter Aaron Hicks. Springs got ahead but left an 0-2 slider up and Hicks lofted a sacrifice fly.
The Rays had basically two chances to score.
In the first, when Austin Meadows’ pop-up struck the B-ring catwalk above rightfield and dropped in for a one-out double. Manuel Margot grounded out, moving Meadows to third, but Lowe struck out.
And in the sixth, when Randy Arozarena lined a ball high off the leftfield fence for a one-out double. Meadows grounded out, moving Arozarena up, but Margot struck out.
The result was the Rays’ second shutout loss of the season and the ninth time in 38 games they were held to one or no runs. Their majors-worst average with runners in scoring position is down to .197 and .135 at home, 5-for-their-last-74.
“Just one of those days where Cole had everything going,” Arozarena said via team translator Manny Navarro. “He pitched a great game. It was pretty obvious for everyone to see.”
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