Defense dooms Rays, as 2 infield errors lead to 5-run Yankees rally

NEW YORK — The Rays at times this season have had to deal with a slumbering offense, a struggling bullpen and some inconsistent starting pitching.

Friday, they were done in by their defense.

Errors by second baseman Curtis Mead and first baseman Yandy Diaz factored heavily into the Yankees scoring five runs in the seventh inning and rolling to a 5-3 victory in the teams’ first meeting of 2024.

“It obviously stinks to make an error in an inning where it kind of blows up and leads to ending up being the difference,” Mead said. “I think it’s frustrating, considering I think we all felt like we were the better team on the night, and to not come away with the win was frustrating.”

As the game unfolded, it seemed like it would be a feel-good story for the Rays (11-10).

New York native Richie Palacios, playing for the first time in the stadium where he previously watched games and with his parents and 100-plus relatives and friends in the stands, homered to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead in the sixth.

“It’s awesome,” Palacios said. “I mean, what I’ve always wanted to do. If I told my younger self that I did it, I’d definitely be excited. It was definitely an exciting thing to hit a home run with all the fans there and all my family.”

The Rays also got a second straight strong start from Tyler Alexander, who spent time last week on the bereavement list due to what the team said was a private matter.

As the game ended, there was some controversy.

A potential ninth-inning rally by the Rays, starting with singles by Ben Rortvedt and Diaz, was snubbed when Randy Arozarena hit a pop up to short center that Aaron Judge dove for but didn’t catch.

Second base umpire John Libka initially signaled out, as the ball was obscured under Judge’s body. That led to Rortvedt going back to second and then being easily thrown out at third as the Yankees recovered the ball.

Rays manager Kevin Cash argued that the call “jarred” the Rays runners but admitted that even with an initial safe call Rortvedt most likely wouldn’t have made it safely to third. Yankees manager Aaron Boone, meanwhile, was arguing that it should have been called an infield fly.

“Just a little confusion,” Cash said. “A lot went on. ... They handled it fine.”

Adding to it, Palacios then laced a line drive that turned into a game-ending double play.

In the middle was the frustration of seeing the 1-0 lead quickly become a 5-1 deficit.

The seventh started with reliever Chris Devenski striking out Gleyber Torres, but it went badly from there.

First, Mead misplayed a grounder by Alex Verdugo. “I missed it,” Mead said. “I think I could have been a little bit more aggressive, which would have hopefully led to a more favorable outcome.”

A walk by Jose Trevino put two runners on. Oswaldo Cabrera hit a hard bouncer to first that Diaz felt he had what would have been a tough play on. But the ball unexpectedly hopped over his glove, allowing the tying run to score.

Leadoff man Anthony Volpe singled crisply to center to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Then Soto, the slugging outfielder acquired from the Padres, smashed a 409-foot, three-run homer to right, clocked at 110.9 mph, and emphatically flipped his bat.

“We’ve got to catch the ball behind the guys,” Cash said. “They know that, they work hard at that. We didn’t. That ball took a pretty wicked hop on Yandy. Two errors and a walk, and then you’ve got those type of hitters coming up, they can make you pay. And they did.”

Devenski took some of the blame, too. “It’s always tough, but at the end of the day, I’ve got to do a better job of finding a way to get out of that.”

The Rays scored two runs in the eight but could get no closer. The rally off Ian Hamilton started with an Arozarena walk and Palacios double, followed by a single by Isaac Paredes that scored them both. But Harold Ramirez and Amed Rosario lined out, and after Mead singled Jose Cabellero grounded out to keep it 5-3.

“We’re just trying to play good baseball,” Palacios said. “We didn’t do that as much as we wanted (Friday). So, we’re going to double back and get that (Saturday).”

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