ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Yankees have at least 29 games to prove what this team will be. For most of the year, they looked like an unbeatable contender. Saturday night, they were again a beat-up, second-half team that couldn’t find a way to score runs. The Yankees only scored on Aaron Judge’s ninth-inning home run as they lost to Tampa Bay 2-1 at Tropicana Field.
The Yankees (79-54) have lost six of their last seven games. The Rays (74-57) have clinched the series win, handing the Bombers their eighth series loss in the last 10. Tampa Bay cut another game off the Yankees’ once commanding lead in the American League East. The Bombers, who were once up by 15.5-games this season, now hold just a four-game lead in the division, three in the loss column.
“We’re gonna find out what we’re made of. I mean, we’re as deep in the adversity as you can [be] with a couple of key guys going out and a stretch of losing baseball,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “All the noise, a lot of people out there who are really mad, so what’s our response? We’re in control of it. So it’s on us, it’s on us to do it. It’s there to do it.
“I know we gotta keep talking about it every night after the game, but we got to stop talking about it.”
It boils down to the fact that the Yankees offense that was rolling over teams in the first half is simply not producing right now. Judge hammered his major-league-leading 52nd home run of the season to lead off the top of the ninth. That snapped a 21-inning scoreless streak that dated back to Wednesday night. They have been held to three runs or less in 17 of their last 23 games. Saturday they were held to three hits or fewer for the 13th time, the most for a Yankees team since 1914.
“Well, we’re number one in the league in scoring,” an obviously frustrated Boone said. “Amazing, as that is, we are number one in the league in scoring.”
“So if we don’t turn this around, that’ll be the story,” Boone continued. “But, like I said, we still have that in front of us to do and we have the people to do it. Injuries and guys beat up is a real factor. But also, everyone deals with that and we still have to find a way to put points on the board right now. So the best I can tell you is we’re in control of that. On the whole, we’ve done a good job. If we don’t dig ourselves out, you’ll have a great story to write.”
Saturday, Corey Kluber held them scoreless for seven innings, scattering two hits and striking out four. On the Yankees’ first chance on the day, Giancarlo Stanton got thrown out trying to take second on a wild pitch. In the sixth, with two on, Kluber struck out Judge and coaxed a ground out from DJ LeMahieu.
Stanton had one of the Yankees’ three hits Saturday, but he’s frustrated with himself. Since missing 28 games with an Achilles injury, the slugger has gone 4-for-30.
“I needed to come back and [make an] impact not have basically zero production,” Stanton said in the quiet clubhouse. “So I’m disappointed in that and, yeah, I need to find it as well. I mean, I need to be a boost here, not a blank spot in the lineup.”
Before the game, they placed Andrew Benintendi on the injured list with right wrist inflammation, but he was going to get a second opinion and Boone said they weren’t certain what the issue exactly is. Benintendi was in an air cast in the clubhouse Saturday afternoon and it’s unclear if he will be one of those the Yankees can get back in the mix down the stretch.
They are already without Matt Carpenter, who is still in a walking boot and using a scooter to get around after fracturing his foot last month. They are without Anthony Rizzo this weekend and likely into next week after he had an epidural for nagging back pain. LeMahieu is trying to play through ongoing pain in his right big toe and Josh Donaldson is having the worst season of his career. Plus, Gleyber Torres’ offense disappeared in the second half.
“We’re upset and disappointed. I’m very upset,” Stanton said. “We got tomorrow. We’ve got a quick night and just go tomorrow. We sit on this and we’re going nowhere sitting on it. We just gotta push forward.”