Rays Held To Three Hits In Series-Opening Loss To Yankees

Mike Zunino and Willy Adames visit with Luis Patino, who allowed one earned run in four innings against the Yankees during Monday night’s 3-1 loss. (AP: Steve Nesius)

ST. PETERSBURG — A major problem for the Rays this season has been their inability to deliver with runners in scoring position, especially at home. They entered Tuesday night’s series opener against the Yankees hitting .144 at Tropicana Field in such situations.

The problem in a 3-1 loss to their division rival was the inability to get in scoring position, let alone come through, which they failed to do in going 0-for-5 with RISP on a night in which they had all of three hits against a trio of Yankees pitchers.

Trailing 2-1 with one out and runners on first and second in the fourth, Mike Brosseau struck out and Kevin Padlo, called up earlier in the day, grounded out against Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery. That was the only time the Rays had at least two runners on base.

“We had runners on first and second and could not capitalize,” said manager Kevin Cash. “But they pitched well and we just couldn’t get anything going.”

The Yankees, who were without multiple members of their coaching staff due to a positive COVID-19 test and contact tracing, took a 1-0 lead on Aaron Judge’s first-inning homer off Luis Patino.

In the third inning, what proved to the decisive run scored as a result of two passed balls by Mike Zunino in a stretch of three pitches. With Judge at the plate with one out and runners on first and second, a passed ball allowed the runners to move up 90 feet. The second passed ball allowed the runner on third, DJ LeMahieu, to score.

“We had a little miscommunication on the first pitch and the slider (on the second PB) took off on me, with the runner on third,” said Zunino. “(Patino) has electric stuff and I underplayed it a little bit.”

Zunino atoned when he led off the bottom half of the inning and deposited a Montgomery sinker 472 feet from home plate, the fourth-longest homer in the ballpark’s history.

Unfortunately, Zunino’s home run was all the Rays could muster against Montgomery (6 IP, 2 H, 9 K), Jonathan Loaisiga (2 IP, 1 H) and Aroldis Chapman, who picked up his eighth save. 

“He was good, hitting his spots, keeping everything down and limiting his mistakes,” said Austin Meadows of Montgomery, who entered the game 1-3 with a 5.63 ERA in eight career starts against the Rays, including two this season.

Meadows led off the ninth by reaching on a Gleyber Torres error. He was thrown out at second when a Chapman pitch to the next batter, Yandy Diaz, sailed to the backstop and came right back to catcher Gary Sanchez, who threw out Meadows.

“Definitely unlucky,” said Meadows. “It was one of those things. Sanchez has a really good arm. It hit the backstop and came right back to him.”

The Rays held the Yankees to seven hits. Patino allowed one earned run in four innings and Josh Fleming followed with four innings in which the only run he allowed was a two-out homer by Sanchez in the seventh.

Fleming worked out of a jam later in the seventh and again in the eighth after allowing the first two batters to reach.

“Our pitchers threw the ball well and kept us in the ballgame,” said Cash. “Fleming made some big big pitches with guys on base.”

It wasn’t enough, though, for a team that has now scored two runs or less five of their last six games at the Trop.

The three-game series continues Wednesday night (7:10) when Collin McHugh opposes Gerrit Cole. The Yankees’ righthander is 4-1 with a 1.61 ERA that is third in the American League. Cole’s 66 strikeouts (44 ⅔ innings) are also third in the junior circuit.

Tom Layberger has been a sports writer and editor since 1990. Among the companies he has worked for are Beckett Publishing, The Topps Company and Comcast. In addition to being a contributing writer for sportstalkflorida.com, Tom also writes for forbes.com and Tampa Bay Business & Wealth Magazine. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs and a University of South Florida grad, Tom is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. He resides in Tampa.