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Rays get Taylor Walls’ grand slam, just enough relief to beat Yankees

NEW YORK — Jason Adam’s face told the story of Sunday’s game.

First, the look of fear and disgust that he had just given up a tying homer to Yankees slugger Aaron Judge with two outs in the ninth, thinking that his Rays may have let a third straight game slip away late.

“I thought that was like 30 rows deep,” Adam said.

Then the look of relief and joy when he saw centerfielder Jose Siri make the catch a couple feet in front of the wall, sealing a much-needed 8-7 win.

“Thankfully he missed it more than I thought,” Adam said. “This whole series was a tough series. It was a battle on both sides. ... To come in (Sunday) down 2-1 in the series and win this game was huge.”

The victory improved the Rays’ MLB-best record to 31-11 and, for the fourth time, kept them from what would have been a season-high three-game losing streak. The Yankees dropped to 23-19.

And it should have at least quelled some concerns about a bullpen that has had issues between shifting less-experienced relievers into higher-leverage roles and shuffling in others to provide depth, flaws that were exposed by a deep Yankees lineup. (Of note: high-leverage reliever Pete Fairbanks is expected back Tuesday from injury.)

Friday, the Rays took a 5-4 lead in the eighth but lost 6-5. Saturday, they led 6-0 in the fifth and lost 9-8. Being ahead 8-4 in the fifth Sunday, after getting a grand slam from Taylor Walls, didn’t feel particularly secure.

“They were tough,” Walls said. “I feel like every time we got the lead they would respond and either take it back or put some runs up and match whatever we did that inning before. They’re a good ball club, especially with Judge back. You know their lineup is dangerous. So we knew we didn’t have a comfortable enough lead even when it was 8-4.”

Starter Zach Eflin, in what manager Kevin Cash called “a pretty gutsy performance,” got them through the sixth inning up 8-4, despite having been drilled in the right thigh by a 102.9-mph Anthony Volpe liner in the third.

Colin Poche got two outs in the seventh, then allowed a hit. Rule 5 rookie Kevin Kelly, who had a hand in Friday’s loss, allowed singles to Gleyber Torres and Judge for a run, but struck out dangerous Anthony Rizzo to end it. Recent call-up Trevor Kelley, who was Friday’s opener, gave up a single to open the eighth, got two outs, then allowed a homer to Volpe that made it 8-7. Adam, despite the scare at the end, finished it off with a five-pitch inning.

“I think that’s fair (to say) — ‘pieced it together,’” Cash said. “Look, there’s no doubt we’re beat up. We’re in an environment that some young pitchers haven’t been in before. I think we wore it a little bit. But at the end of the day, when we needed to make the big pitches, they did.”

They had the cushion to work with thanks to an offense that struck for three early runs, then separated the game with a five-run fifth. Walls did most of the work, his first career grand slam being the seventh homer of his breakout offensive season, as he is hitting .281 with 18 RBIs and a .956 OPS.

Walls said he didn’t think he had a chance for the slam given his previous at-bat he had laced a ball much harder to the same right-center area and it hit off the wall, leading to a triple.

“Honestly, the home run was kind of out of the window after I hit the first one, the triple, and it didn’t go,” he said. “That’s the hardest ball I’ve had all year, 105 (mph) at 32 (degrees of launch angle), and I’m like, ‘If that doesn’t go out, I’m not getting one out today.’”

Greeting reliever Albert Abreu with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth, Walls knew he didn’t hit the ball as well — 100 mph at 28 degrees — but figured the wind must have changed in his favor. “It was fortunate enough to get out,” he said. “One of those things I was not expecting.”

Sunday’s win was the Rays’ fourth in seven games played against the Yankees over the last 10 days, six of which were decided by one run.

“It felt good, no doubt,” Cash said. “We’ve had some exciting ball games here. For seven, it seems like any team could win any one of the ball games. Happy that we came up on top (Sunday).”

Said Walls: “We needed the win today.”

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