“This was no boat accident.”
— Hooper, “Jaws”
Nope, this was not a defeat to shrug off as an aberration, to chalk it up to one of those days.
Sure, the Yankees remain the American League leaders and favorites even after their 1-0 loss to the Rays on Friday night at Tropicana Field. Yet they have a bona fide challenger to keep them honest in the form of that low-budget group down in Tampa Bay. This season series opener served as a sobering reminder of that reality, not that the Yankees needed it.
“We had a good time celebrating. I mean beating the Yankees, man, it’s a good team. It’s a tough team to beat,” said Blake Snell, who started and threw the first three innings. “So it was definitely happy with us being able to get that victory and being able to celebrate after is always a good sign.”
“That was huge. We definitely needed this W,” said Rays reliever Chaz Roe, the former Yankee, who picked up the win. “Hopefully we get this momentum going to [Saturday] and this doubleheader and take care of business.”
A Rays sweep through the weekend would tie up the two teams, and if that’s not likely, neither is it that the Yankees run away from their nemesis, no matter what preceded this series.
The Rays entered the game 5-7 at this reduced season’s 20 percent mark, a disappointment after taking the Astros to five games in last year’s AL Division Series and beginning the season as many forecasters’ selection for this division crown. Hence the urgency to get going and show the Yankees and themselves what they could do.
They haven’t hit much this season and didn’t get any better on Friday, as Masahiro Tanaka’s five strong innings (no runs, one hit, five strikeouts, no walks) gave the Yankees reason to smile despite the final result. The Rays nevertheless prevailed because their arms shut down the Yankees’ scary lineup and executed flawlessly and impressively. The winning run came on Michael Perez’s eighth-inning sacrifice fly off Adam Ottavino, the home team capitalizing on a pair of walks and a wild pitch, after Perez fell to the ground upon fouling a ball off his left knee.
As Rays manager Kevin Cash said, if you had told him prior to the game that his team would record two hits and still pick up a win against the Yankees’ potent lineup, “I’d have called you a liar.”
Honestly enough, though, the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner and southpaw Snell, still building up his endurance, kicked things off with three hitless innings (and two walks), succeeding even though, as Cash put it, “They loaded up a bunch of righties. They loaded up a bunch of really, really good righties. Snell struck out Aaron Judge in both of their two matchups, and Judge now has a single and six walks in 22 plate appearances versus Snell, striking out 10 times.
“I’m not saying nothing cause I know if he goes deep, I don’t want nothing in return,” Snell said of Judge. “He’s a great hitter. I’ve faced him a lot and it’s been going my way. He’s on a tear. Having a great season.”
Of the five guys who relieved Snell, only Diego Castillo required a bailout, putting men on first and second to start the seventh, and Nick Anderson picked him up, after loading the bases, by striking out Gary Sanchez on three pitches. Shortstop Willy Adames halted an eighth-inning rally when he caught Mike Tauchman trying to advance from second to third on DJ LeMahieu’s bouncer to the left side. In all, the Rays put on a master class in pitching and fundamental baseball.
The Yankees are not the sort of group that would take an opponent for granted, would call a tight loss an accident. It’s not like they needed to hear a message from the Rays. They got one anyway.
“It was distant but it was rowdy, it was rowdy. No, I’m just playing,” Snell said, when asked of the postgame scene. The Rays will just play all the way through. The Yankees won’t be able to ignore them.
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