NEW YORK — The Rays lost a lot Wednesday night.
A chance to complete a three-game sweep of the Yankees. To further reduce their once-bulging American League East lead. And, most important, a game they seemed to twice have won that ended up a crushing 8-7 loss on a walkoff grand slam by Josh Donaldson in the 10th inning.
“It’s obviously a game you want back,’’ said Pete Fairbanks, one of four relievers who had a hand in the loss.
It was a tough one because of how the Rays got there and how good their bullpen had been, coming into the game on a 14⅔-innings scoreless streak.
“Those guys have all pitched really, really good for us here as of late, certainly the first two games here,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “And we just had our hiccup (Wednesday).’’
The loss snapped the Rays’ four-game winning streak and dropped them to 62-54, back into a tie with Toronto for the second American League wild-card spot. It also dropped them 10 games behind the division-leading Yankees, who had lost three straight and 11 of 13.
They were seeking their fifth sweep of a three(-or-more) game series at Yankee Stadium in 25 seasons of play, having done so the previous two seasons, and also in 2013 and 2014.
The Rays led 4-2 in the seventh, but Colin Poche made a mess in loading the bases. He allowed two singles to start and a one-out walk of lefty Andrew Benintendi.
Then Fairbanks came in and walked Aaron Judge on four pitches, starting him with three straight sliders, all of which missed, and walking him on the fourth to make it 4-3.
“I thought I executed good pitches, and I thought that — I know that (Judge) is tall, and that is what it is,’' Fairbanks said. “I don’t know — how (home plate umpire James Hoye) calls them is how he calls him, and I can’t have any bearing on that.’'
Brooks Raley took over in the eighth and on his second pitch in a left-on-left matchup with Anthony Rizzo gave up his first homer of the season, to tie it at 4.
“He hit a slider, but it was 0-1,’' Raley said. “Keep attacking. It’s what we do, what we’ve been doing. So nothing changes.’’
After the Rays rallied in the top of the 10th, with Francisco Mejia delivering one of their most clutch hits of the season, a three-run double with two outs and two strikes, they turned to lefty Jalen Beeks to close it out.
And that turned out horribly as Beeks — in a span of eight pitches — allowed a single to Gleyber Torres, threw a four-pitch walk to Rizzo (”Just can’t do that,’' Beeks said) and gave up the homer to Donaldson, a 349-foot fly ball to right that was enough to carry over the Yankee Stadium fence.
“It sucks,’’ Beeks said. “We’re up three in extras, you want to come through for the team. We played a really hard game. And then just to come down to me and I can’t get three outs, it’s always frustrating. That’s on me. I lost the game.’’
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Cash acknowledged it was a team effort.
“It felt like that (10th) inning was kind of reflective of what had taken place the last three or four innings prior,’’ he said. “They just put a bunch of good at-bats together against us and when we needed to execute a pitch, we just weren’t able to do it.’’
Poche took the blame as well, pointing out his inability to get through the seventh forced Cash to use Fairbanks at that point rather than in the eighth. And how that changed the ensuing plans, as Cash had to use Beeks, who threw two innings on Monday, in the 10th.
Those decisions were further impacted by Jason Adam, their top high-leverage reliever, being off after working three straight games, including with a 4-0 lead on Monday. With Adam unavailable, the only remaining relievers were right-handers Shawn Armstrong and Jimmy Yacabonis, and Cash said he preferred using a lefty.
“We had a good series,’' Poche said. “Limited them, shut them out the first night, one run the next day, so that was tough. And then my inning, coming in (to face the) 7-8-9 (hitters), you’ve got to be able to lock that down. ...
“What’s frustrating to me is by me not being able to do my job, it kind of stretched everybody else a little thin and put more responsibility on the guys who had already been worn down from the quality work they did in this series already.’'
The Rays looked to be in command of the game, building an early 4-0 lead with Yandy Diaz (two run-scoring doubles) and Harold Ramirez (solo home run) providing the bulk of the offense. But the Yankees got within two against starter Corey Kluber, on a two-run Torres homer, then further rallied after a 63-minute rain delay in the top of the seventh.
“Ideally, you avoid all of them (having tough nights), but they’ll bounce right back,’’ Cash said. “It’s a special group down there. They do a good job. No doubt that they’re frustrated. They’re wanting to do everything they can. And full confidence that they’ll be totally fine.’’
“The walks,’’ Cash said. “In this ballpark against this lineup the walks are going to come back and get you, and I think that’s kind of pretty reflective of what happened (Wednesday).”
And then the walkoff.
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