ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays felt they came up just short again Wednesday in losing a second straight close game to the Yankees, this time 3-1 in 10 innings.
At the plate, where they managed just three hits, and none after the fourth inning. On the mound, where an impressive five-inning start by Michael Wacha and quality relief work went to waste, and with some concern as reliever Pete Fairbanks left with a shoulder issue.
And certainly in the field, where defensive issues factored into all of New York’s scoring, the decisive one scoring when Aaron Judge’s bouncer up the middle ticked off the tip of shortstop Wander Franco’s glove and went through.
“Wander, I don’t know what he’s supposed to do,’' manager Kevin Cash said. “He doesn’t have Go Go Gadget arms. I wish he did on that play.’'
The Rays could have used help from the Inspector Gadget cartoon character as they lost for a third straight time. They dropped to 60-42 and, with the American League East-leading Red Sox splitting a doubleheader, fell 2½ games off the lead, with a weekend showdown ahead.
The lack of offense has been the Rays’ biggest problem. They have scored just six runs in the three losses — to the Indians on Sunday and now two to the Yankees — in which they had 11 hits total and went a combined 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
On Wednesday, before a Tropicana Field crowd of 11,525, they couldn’t do much against Yankees starter Nestor Cortes and four relievers, three of whom also were lefties.
Two of the Rays’ three hits came in the fourth, Franco hustling for an infield hit, then racing home when Brandon Lowe doubled to right for their only run. They had only two walks the rest of the way.
“You’ve got to credit their pitching; their pitching has been really, really good,’' Cash said. “Our offense certainly can find a way to do a little bit more and create a little bit more pressure.’'
Despite the lack of run support, pitching kept the Rays in the game. Wacha, whose rotation spot has seemed tenuous and with the Friday trade deadline nearing, delivered an encouraging performance.
He allowed one unearned run and three hits, walking one and striking out a season-high-matching nine in his second strong outing against the Yankees, having worked six no-run, one-hit innings in April.
“He was awesome,’' Cash said. “He just did a tremendous job of navigating through that lineup. And even when there was some guys on base, he made big pitch after big pitch. Just a great sign for us and him.’'
Relievers Drew Rasmussen and Matt Wisler also were sharp getting the Rays to the 10th.
The Yankees got their first run in the fifth when Joey Wendle made a good grab at third, but a bad throw allowed Gio Urshela to reach. He came around on a double and a sac fly.
Then they got two in the 10th. With Urshela at second to start the inning, Fairbanks hit Greg Allen. Judge, who entered in the fifth inning after being delayed getting to the stadium when medical tests related to his COVID-19 injured list stint ran long, lashed the 106.7 mph grounder Franco couldn’t corral.
Cash defended the 20-year-old rookie, saying that the combination of the ball being hit hard and having a lot of topspin made it “a really tough play” and that Franco “approached it the right way, it was just barely out of his reach.’'
Franco, via team interpreter Manny Navarro, said he did what he could: “I was trying my best just to stop the ball from being a hit. I know the location of where he hit it; it was pretty tough. I was doing the best I could just to at least knock it down, but unfortunately it got past.’'
The Yankees scored again when Andrew Kittredge, who replaced Fairbanks, bounced a 96.5 mph sinker that got past catcher Francisco Mejia.
The Rays got the winning run to the plate in their half of the 10th against closer Aroldis Chapman, having two on with one out. But pinch-hitter Nelson Cruz struck out, and Mejia popped up to end it.
“We haven’t been able to get that big hit,’' Mejia said.
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