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Rays swept out of Bronx, now 12 games behind Yankees

A fifth-inning lead disappears quickly for Tampa Bay, and the home team walks it off in the ninth.
The Rays' Ji-Man Choi swings at a pitch during the first inning Thursday in New York. Choi drew a walk during the at-bat.
The Rays' Ji-Man Choi swings at a pitch during the first inning Thursday in New York. Choi drew a walk during the at-bat. [ BEBETO MATTHEWS | AP ]
Published Jun. 17|Updated Jun. 17

NEW YORK — The Rays lost the lead Thursday when Ryan Thompson couldn’t throw strikes in the sixth inning, and they lost the game when Shawn Armstrong gave up a walkoff homer with one out in the ninth to Anthony Rizzo.

But the reason they keep losing — Thursday’s 2-1 defeat their third straight to the Yankees and fifth in their last six games, dropping them to 12 games out in the American League East — is that they aren’t hitting.

Consider that over the three games they held the high-powered Yankees to eight runs — just three earned — and got swept.

“Look, we’re frustrated,” manager Kevin Cash said. “There’s no doubt. Losing three ballgames here, especially with the way we pitched. We really threw the ball really well.

“We’re going to get out of this. We’d like it sooner than later, but we’ve just got to find a way to kind of stay together through these tough times. We are, we can’t deny it, we’re in a tough stretch right now.”

Part of the problem is who the Rays are missing. Their top two home-run hitters, Brandon Lowe and Mike Zunino, are on the injured list, along with their most impactful offensive player, Wander Franco. (Plus, Kevin Kiermaier is out day-to-day with a leg issue.)

Related is who they have in the lineup. Cash is trying to get the most out of his remaining somewhat reliable veterans, such as Randy Arozarena, Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz and Manuel Margot, while moving around the other pieces in an attempt to find a productive mix. Which is how he ended up with rookie Vidal Brujan, hitting .144 with a .406 OPS, in the leadoff spot.

So what will it take to get the offense, which has totaled three or fewer runs in 30 of their 63 games, going?

“Guys like ‘B-Lowe’ and Wander are definitely guys you want in the lineup,” Diaz said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “I think it’s just one of those streaks that we’re going through right now, kind of bad luck. …

“I think we’ve just got to continue to stay positive. It could be a blooper. It could be an error. Whatever it’s going to take for us to get out of this streak.”

Maybe going to Baltimore will help, where the degree of difficulty should be lower. (Side note: At 35-28, the Rays are closer to the last-place Orioles than the Yankees).

Though, after dealing with top Yankees starters Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes the first two games, the Rays didn’t take advantage of scheduled starter Luis Severino being scratched (for COVID-19 reasons). Instead, they were stymied over 6-2/3 innings by Clarke Schmidt and Ryan Weber, the 31-year-old St. Petersburg native (and ex-Ray) who was called up from Triple-A for his first big-league outing since July, then after the game designated for assignment.

The Rays took a 1-0 lead in the fifth, when Francisco Mejia homered though right after Harold Ramirez was caught stealing, for their majors-most 18th time. It was Mejia’s third home run, first since April 20. The Rays had only three hits total.

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They gave up the lead when Thompson took over with two outs and nobody on, facing two right-handers. He walked both, DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge, on five pitches each, then allowed an RBI single to the lefty-swinging Rizzo.

The walks — “100 percent,” Thompson said — were the bigger issue.

“This is really uncharacteristic of me,” he said. “And it’s really unacceptable for me in that spot to come in and face those righties and even give Rizzo a chance to hit that inning. So, yeah, it’s extremely frustrating.”

Armstrong, called up May 31, isn’t typically used in high-leverage moments, but the bullpen also has been hit by injuries. He retired Judge, then left a 2-1 sinker a little too low and in Rizzo’s swing path, and the Rays lost again, swept in a series for the first time in nearly a year.

“Collectively,” Armstrong said, “we’re going to get through this.”

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