ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays were playing from ahead most of the night Wednesday but between their own mistakes and the Yankees’ constant threats, it seemed like a matter of time until they gave it away.
That happened quickly in the eighth inning, with reliever Ralph Garza Jr., pitching for the first time in 12 days, allowing a leadoff walk and a home run to Jose Trevino that was the difference in a 5-4 final.
For a game the Rays (37-32) led by three going into the sixth, they made quite a mess. And it was a team effort.
Shortstop Taylor Walls committed a run-scoring throwing error. Walls and Randy Arozarena made costly outs on the bases. Their hitters went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. And their pitchers walked eight, one off their season high, as the bullpen let the lead get away.
“Obviously, it’s pretty tough, especially when you jump on them the way we do, kind of have the momentum,’’ Walls said. “You feel like you’re kind of in control of the game and then they just kind of come back and take it away from you. These are series we have to win. We’re going to have to start winning them down the stretch. But I have all the confidence in this team to do it.’’
The mistakes and misplays are going to be costly at all times, but even more so against a Yankees team with a majors-best 51-18 record. Consider over the past week-and-a-half, the Rays played the Yankees six times, winning one and losing five by a total of seven runs.
“They’re the best team in baseball; it shows that we’re a really good team,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “We’re just not capitalizing on opportunities that we’re capable of doing. We didn’t make the big pitch. We didn’t get the big hit. ... The big play. There were things throughout that game (Wednesday), all three of those things came up and kind of bit us.’’
The Rays took a 3-0 lead in the second on homers by Isaac Paredes, who after his team-record-tying three-home run game Tuesday became the first player in franchise history to homer in four consecutive at-bats, and Vidal Brujan.
The Yankees got one back when Aaron Judge homered to lead off the fourth off starter Shane Baz, who had struck out the previous five in a row.
The Rays made it 4-1 when Francisco Mejia started a rally with a double in the home fourth. But they lost a chance to add on with the bases loaded and top RBI man Ji-Man Choi at the plate when Walls got caught leading too far off third and was picked off by Trevino.
Walls had explanations. He said he was taking the big lead in case Jordan Montgomery bounced a slider, felt safe being as far from the base as third baseman Josh Donaldson was, and that neither he nor third-base coach Rodney Linares saw Donaldson break back to the base until very late.
“I was kind of hanging way too far by the time me or (Linares) saw him break, so that’s kind of where it was,’’ Walls said.
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Walls also had a hand in the Yankees getting within 4-2 in the sixth off rookie Calvin Faucher, rushing and then bouncing a throw with catcher Trevino running, allowing the Rays’ 46th unearned run (second most in the majors).
With Baz pitching himself out of the game in the fifth, Cash had to go to his bullpen earlier and more often than he hoped, including using Faucher and Garza in higher-leverage-than-usual spots.
Judge hit a second homer, a towering blast that appeared to go over the B-ring catwalk (second from the top) off Colin Poche in the seventh. Then Garza — who Cash said was not at all to blame — gave up the two-run homer in the eighth. The three-run lead the Rays blew was their largest lost at home in a regular-season game since Sept. 28. 2018.
“It’s frustrating,’’ Cash said. “But we had opportunities to add more runs, and we didn’t. And then I think, fairly obvious, that we were a little gassed in the pen from probably the night before and even previous usage, and (it) kind of caught up to us there at the end.’’
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