NEW YORK – If the Yankees were to manage the next two items on their to-do list, gain entry to the American League’s wild card game and then win this contest, their reward would be a best-of-five showdown against the Rays in the American League Division Series.
Friday’s performance was a reminder of how difficult this task will be. Their cold bats after the first inning, Joey Gallo and Brett Gardner delivered hits in the ninth, but the rally fell through as the Yankees opened their final homestand of the regular season with a 4-3 loss to Tampa. Bay at Yankee Stadium.
“It was a close loss against a very good team,” said Gallo. “We are in control of our own destiny, so we have to deal with these next two games and keep the same mentality. Win these matches and we’re good.
The Yankees’ lead for the Wild Card was reduced to a game against the Red Sox, who won in Washington. The Blue Jays also won, beating the Orioles, and they are one game behind the Red Sox with two regular season games to play. The Mariners lost to the Angels for being one game behind Boston, which reduced New York’s magic number to one for netting a Wild Card spot.
“We need those next two for sure,” said Giancarlo Stanton, who hit two hits and led in one race. “Tonight is over. We have another one in about 12 hours.
Making his first appearance since July 31, Domingo Germán pitched a scoreless eighth inning. Yankees manager Aaron Boone tried to pull more on the right-hander, who fought off No. 8 and 9 hitters Francisco Mejía and Kevin Kiermaier with a ninth inning out.
“He’s going to be in tough spots,” Boone said. “We have to lean on everyone out there. The walks hurt him to get him out of the game, but I thought overall he threw the ball pretty well.
Boone had warmed up southpaw Aroldis Chapman and considered using southpaw Lucas Luetge, but he opted to bring in right-hander Albert Abreu, believing he preferred to see rookie Wander Franco on the left side.
Abreu prompted Randy Arozarena to strike in on a defensive player’s pick, but Franco hammered a two-run single to centerfield that opened up a three-point lead at Tampa Bay with the runs being charged to Germán.
“I just felt like, from a game point of view, it was good,” said Boone. “I thought Albert did a good job getting Arozarena out, then he took Franco down there. He just found a hole with it.
The Yankees weren’t done. Facing right-hander Andrew Kittredge, Stanton scored a brace with a center-left strikeout. The Rays used a four-way outfield against Gallo, leaving the left side of the infield unprotected. Stanton rushed to third on defensive indifference, then Gallo dropped a perfect bunt on the third base line for a single RBI.
“I just fell asleep on my own,” Gallo said. “It’s just instinctual when I think it’s the right time to do it. I felt that was a pretty important time to do it there, to bring the base runners in and keep the line moving.
Gio Urshela scored a single, as did Gardner, shifting the potential equalizer to second. Kittredge struck out strike hitters Gary Sánchez and Rougned Odor, sealing the Rays’ 10th win in 17 tries against the Yankees this season.
“They were throwing good shots, staying in the corners, not letting too many shots over the plate,” said Stanton. “When you can perform like that, you’re going to neutralize good training. They will make mistakes, and we have to capitalize.
Southpaw Nestor Cortes started for the Yankees, limiting Tampa Bay to two runs and five hits in 4 2/3 innings. Nelson Cruz hit a home run in the first inning, his 32nd, and Kiermaier hit an RBI single in the second inning against Cortes. The left-hander didn’t walk and put out five strikes.
Rays starter Shane McClanahan pitched three innings, hit in the first by Gleyber Torres’ brace – a 111.6 mph ball that marked the hardest hit ball of the infielder’s career. Stanton continued his stretch, hitting Torres at home, but the Yanks were limited to three singles from the second inning to the ninth.
“You play 162 games for that reason – it all comes down to the last two games,” Cortes said.