Let’s divide up last night’s Yankees-Rays game into two parts, split by the eighteen-minute delay in the fifth inning when a bolt of lightning caused a bank of lights to lose power. The Yankees scored a run in the top of the first, but it took the Rays just three batters to take the lead off A.J. Burnett in the bottom half of the inning — a lead they’d extend to 4–1 in the second. Burnett, who’d last five and a third innings, wouldn’t allow a run beyond the second, but he’d already dug his team a hole. (Three of those four runs, by the way, were earned; the fourth scored on a throwing error by Burnett himself.) Then in the fifth, a Mark Teixeira RBI single cut the Tampa Bay lead to 4–2, shortly before the afforementioned bank of lights went out. The Yankees had begun to chip away.
Then, post-delay, Hector Noesi relieved Burnett with one out in the sixth and threw an inning and two thirds of shutout ball to bring the game to the eighth, when the Yankees would stage a station-to-station rally to tie the game. The Yankees got the first two men on, then, after an out, old pal Kyle Farnsworth entered the game and promptly blew the save: A Russell Martin single loaded the bases, a Brett Gardner single cut the lead to one, and then, after Eduardo Nunez hit what could have been an inning-ending double-play ball, Gardner’s hard slide into second allowed Nunez to reach at first, and allowed the tying run to score.
Then, after a perfect inning from David Robertson — one that featured two more strikeouts — the Yankees would complete the comeback. Curtis Granderson singled to center to lead off the ninth, and from that point on, the ball wouldn’t leave the infield: After Mark Teixeira struck out, Granderson stole second. He then advanced to third on a Robinson Cano ground-out, and Alex Torres (making his big-league debut for the Rays) would load the bases, after walking Nick Swisher (intentionally) and Andrew Jones (unintentionally). Which brought up Martin, who — well aware that Torres would be nervous in such a spot — drew a walk to force in the go-ahead run. Mariano Rivera would pitch a 1-2-3 ninth for his 24th save.
That’s three straight wins for the Yankees, but that’s also three straight losses for Tampa — all to teams they’re chasing in the A.L. East. The Rays suddenly find themselves eight games behind Boston, and six and a half behind the Yankees for the Wild Card spot. (Tampa, by the way, is just percentage points ahead of the Angels in the Wild Card race, and just a half-game ahead of Detroit.) Their Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds have dipped to just 3.7 percent. Last night, no doubt, was a particularly nice win for the Yankees. But it was also an especially crushing loss for the Rays (or, at least, as crushing as a loss can be in July).
Meanwhile, all eyes in Yankeeland now turn to Bartolo Colon, who can hardly afford another start like the one he turned in against the Jays last Thursday. He’ll face Jeremy Hellickson in the second game of the four-game set tonight.