Shane McClanahan falters, bullpen again costs Rays in loss to Yankees

NEW YORK — Given the circumstances, having lost starting pitcher Drew Rasmussen for at least several months due to injury and a tough game to the Yankees the previous night, the Rays had reason to feel pretty good about things midway through Saturday’s matinee.

They had a six-run lead thanks mainly to a Yandy Diaz grand slam in the top of the fifth and security on the mound with ace Shane McClanahan, who in allowing two or fewer runs in each of his first eight starts had been a monument to consistency and success.

Until he wasn’t.

McClanahan played a key role, and relievers Ryan Thompson and Javy Guerra did the rest in another bad night for the bullpen, as the Rays blew that hefty lead and another game to the Yankees, falling 9-8 in what may have been their most painful loss so far this season.

“Just didn’t make quality pitches,” McClanahan said. “I’ve got to do better than that. Team expects it. I expect it. Fans expect it. Just terrible ...

“The offense has done such a great job. And that’s what pisses me off so much is that I let them down (Saturday) when they did everything they could to help us win.”

Instead, the Rays lost for the second straight time and fourth in five games, dropping their majors-leading record to 30-11. The Yankees improved to 23-18, seven games back in the American League East.

McClanahan retired 12 of the first 16 batters he faced, allowing two singles and two walks. Then, he allowed five straight Yankees to reach base, and four to score, to start the fifth.

Worse was how it happened.

He issued a leadoff walk to lefty Jake Bauers (an ex-Ray) and allowed a home run to No. 9 hitter Kyle Higashioka. Then, McClanahan did a rinse and repeat, walking Gleyber Torres and giving up a homer to Aaron Judge, who muscled a pitch that was down and in over the right-centerfield fence. A hard double by Anthony Rizzo, the fifth straight Yankee to reach, ended McClanahan’s afternoon.

Rays manager Kevin Cash had praised McClanahan before Saturday’s game, specifically noting his ability, when teams have a rally going, “to kind of reset himself very quickly,” prevent damage and work deep into games.

Asked about the difference Saturday, Cash gave credit to the Yankees: “The hitters that were coming up, they’re good. They got a little bit of momentum, and it just really carried into the rest of his outing.”

McClanahan preferred to take the blame.

“Yeah, those are great hitters. But I’ve got to do a better job making good pitches,” he said. “It’s frustrating. I’ve got to do a better job of a lot of things. Got to right the ship. I’ve got to be better than that.”

Specifically, McClanahan said, he needs to cut down on walks, having allowed a career-high-matching four for the fourth time this season and 24 over his 50 innings. Of more recent concern, he needs to limit home runs, as he has allowed six over his last five starts after none in his first four.

“I’m working through some stuff right now,” he said. “I’m going to try and right the ship. I don’t expect this, so it’s been a rough stretch for me. I’ve never walked this many guys in my life.

“Ultimately, though, it’s up to me to right the ship and keep working. But, no, I don’t want to walk guys. I don’t want to give up home runs. I’ve just got to be better.”

Thompson acknowledged he could be better as well. He got the Rays out of the fifth with a 6-4 lead, stranding Rizzo, but made a mess in the sixth, facilitated by Yankees rookie Anthony Volpe’s speed.

Volpe bunted his way on, then took advantage of Thompson being slow to the plate to steal second and third — extending his career-starting streak to 13 straight successful steals — and scored on a two-out wild pitch. Worse, Thompson walked Torres before allowing another homer to Judge on “a really bad pitch” that put the Yankees ahead 7-6.

Thompson said he “got a little tired” as the inning went on, which impacted his strike-throwing, and “the pitch clock kind of got me a little bit” against Torres.

He said the Yankees don’t deserve all the credit just because they have good hitters such as Judge and Rizzo.

“That’s no excuse to anybody to give up runs,” Thompson said. “We have a good plan. We’ve been one of the best pitching staffs in baseball for a really long time. So when they beat us, that’s not because they’re good. It’s because we’re making mistakes.

“I think if we do what we do, we’re going to win the majority of the time. But this is a game of baseball. Like (Friday) night with Rizzo, (Saturday) with Judge, they’re taking advantage of bad pitches. And that’s what good players do, and that’s why there’s some of the best in the league.”

After Thompson allowed another bunt single and a walk, Cash switched to Guerra. That didn’t work, either, as he walked Harrison Bader and gave up a two-run single to Oswaldo Cabrera to make it 9-6.

That mattered, because the Rays rallied back, getting two runs in the seventh on a single by Randy Arozarena to close to 9-8. They had another chance in the eighth when Mejia and Diaz struck out with the tying run on second.

But by the end of the afternoon, the Rays were left with a stinging and uncharacteristic loss, the first time they blew a lead of at least six runs since July 27, 2019. (In a way, it was script flip from last Sunday, when the Rays rallied from a 6-0 deficit against Yankees ace Gerrit Cole.)

“It happens, but we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves,” Cash said. “We got to that point, separated the game a little bit. But, obviously know that this team can come right back in one big inning or two big innings. They did a good job.”

The Rays, again, didn’t.

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