ST PETERSBURG — A 6-0 lead should have been more than enough to beat the Rays, especially with Gerrit Cole on the mound. But little has gone well for the Yankees outside of their ace this year, and Cole finally contributed to a sorry stretch that he had otherwise only interrupted with a dominant run until Sunday’s 8-7 series finale loss against the first place Rays.
Cole surrendered his first two home runs of the season, the first coming off the bat of No. 9 hitter Jose Siri in the fifth inning. Cole had gone 51 innings without giving up a longball to open the season after leading the American League in dingers last year, but Siri’s shot was only of the solo variety. However, the Rays added another run on a fluky play involving Gleyber Torres and Oswaldo Cabrera, and more trouble followed in the sixth.
First, Isaac Paredes’s RBI double cut the Yankees’ lead to three. It then evaporated altogether when Christian Bethancourt, the Ray’s No. 8 hitter, crushed a three-run homer off Cole to straightaway center. The blast knocked Cole out of the game, and he completed just five innings while tallying five earned runs, two walks and six strikeouts.
Cole attributed the stressful innings to poor count leverage and his breaking balls lacking command, as “those pitches were over the heart of the plate,” he said.
“It feels awful,” Cole added of blowing the Yankees’ six-run lead. “Just gotta find a way to do a better job to get us out of there and get us a little bit deeper and prevent the runs. But the lack of command really burned us and balls over the plate were touched.”
Cole’s ERA rose from 1.35 to 2.09 in the process. In hindsight, Aaron Boone said he “probably” should have pulled Cole earlier in the sixth – before Bethancourt’s homer.
“But it’s also our ace, and he’s been so good managing situations this year,” the skipper continued. “He’s pitched great, but even in the outings where he’s had a little bit of trouble, I feel like he’s done a great job navigating.”
The Rays weren’t done scoring in the sixth, as Jimmy Cordero failed to look Siri back on a chopper to the first base side of the mound. Siri, who took off from second and never stopped, scored on the throw to first — and barreled over the home plate ump in the process.
“Gotta be more aware in that situation,” Boone said of the play.
The Yankees tied the game in the seventh, but the Rays walked it off in the 10th when Paredes singled off Albert Abreu.
The Yanks had a chance to take the lead in the 10th, but a chaotic contact play involving Aaron Hicks failed to produce a run.
Boone said that Hicks made the right call breaking on contact, while the outfielder explained the odd sequence, which saw him tagged by pitcher Garrett Cleavinger, who hurt himself on the play. No call was signaled on the initial tag, though, so Hicks scampered home, where he was also tagged.
“I felt a lot of contact,” Hicks said of the first tag. “I took a glance at the umpire, and he still hadn’t said anything, so I just got up and tried to get home.
“I was on contact right there, so as soon as Gleyber’s getting ready to swing, I kind of have to get ready to go. About halfway, I realized I was pretty dead, so just tried to stay in a rundown.”
The Yankees’ losing effort spoiled home runs from Anthony Rizzo and Harrison Bader, as well as RBI doubles from Gleyber Torres and Hicks. Hicks’ was his first extra-base hit of the year. The .143 hitter said he’s been “feeling better at the plate” and “making better contact,” which showed Sunday.
“Now it’s all about just getting hits and results,” Hicks said.
Josh Fleming, the Rays’ bulk man, gave up six earned runs in the game. It was the first time the Yankees scored at least seven runs in a game since April 26.
“We progressed as a group throughout the series, Cole said of the Yankees’ weekend at The Trop, which featured three one-run games. “I just let ‘em down today by coughing up the lead.”
Having sunk a chance to take a needed series from a division rival, the Yankees return home Monday to begin a series against the Athletics, another last place team – though a far worse one.
Nestor Cortes is scheduled to start the opener against former teammate JP Sears. Clarke Schmidt will oppose Drew Rucinski on Tuesday, while Jhony Brito and Kyle Muller are Wednesday’s probable starters.