ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays did what they could Friday afternoon to dampen expectations and defuse hype surrounding the weekend series with the struggling Yankees. Almost as one, they insisted their focus was only on winning Friday’s game and not on the rapidly shrinking gap between them and first place in the American League East.
Then the Rays went out and continued to fuel the conversation, turning up the heat by beating the Yankees 9-0 and cutting the once-mighty lead to five games (and four in the loss column).
David Peralta singled in one run in a sloppy Yankees fourth inning and Christian Bethancourt hit a two-run homer in the seventh before a Rays attack (six runs) in the eighth. Jeffery Springs made a strong start and relief came from JT Chargois, Colin Poche, Jason Adam and Calvin Faucher.
The Rays (73-57) have played extremely well, particularly with a 19-9 American League record since August 1 to narrow the Yankees’ lead, which stood at 15 ½ games on July 10. The Yankees (79-53), who went 18-28 in that span, also helped. The teams play again at Tropicana Field on Saturday and Sunday, then three more times next weekend in New York.
In fourth, the Rays took a 1-0 lead.
Harold Ramirez reached when Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson promoted his one-out grounder to third. Randy Arozarena then hit a grounder to the third that Donaldson gloved, glanced at the second, then decided to throw to the first, wildly.
Ramirez, who slipped to second, emerged and raced around third and home, but was kicked out when right fielder Oswaldo Cabrera fired home. As catcher Jose Trevino dove over the plate to try to make a tag, Ramirez slid past the plate and unsuccessfully tried to get a hand in.
Arozarena rocketed into third place and it paid off as Peralta, acquired by Arizona on July 30, rose and singled into midfield.
Springs, who had no apparent pitch-tipping issues in his last start, gave the Rays a strong start and shut out the Yankees with two outs in the sixth.
Springs allowed just four hits, walking three and striking out seven, and getting out of the little trouble he had when the Yankees fielded two men but none in on three occasions.
In the first inning, Springs allowed a two-out double to Andrew Benintendi (who later left the game with a right wrist injury) and footed Giancarlo Stanton, but knocked out Donaldson.
In the third, after a one-out walk by DJ LeMahieu and a curious decision by Yankees manager Aaron Boone to question why the catcher’s interference wasn’t called out on Bethancourt with MVP candidate Aaron Judge at the plate, he had two up . The Yankees won the challenge and the call was reversed, taking the bat out of their hitter’s hands with 51 homers. Springs got Cabrera – who finished the batting after Benintendi was injured – to jump out and punch Stanton.
Then in the fifth, Springs allowed a leadoff double to Isiah Kiner-Falefa and a walk to Judge, but got Cabrera flying out and fanned Stanton again.
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