It was gone off the bat, and every one of the 21,024 crammed into Citi Field’s lower bowls, Party Deck, and Coca-Cola porch knew it. Adeiny Hechavarria, who had gotten three-quarters of the way through a cycle Monday night, got the one leg that eluded him 24 hours earlier, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the visiting team.
Sonny Gray had been masterful. He yielded a home run to Kevin Kiermaier on the first pitch he threw Tuesday night, then for the next 88 pitches, covering 7 ¹/₃ innings, he was as masterful as he had been in his brief tour as a Yankee. He kept the Rays off balance, allowed only three more hits, struck out nine …
“I thought he pitched a really, really good game,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “Over the long haul, you pitch that well, it’ll be good for everyone concerned. It’ll work out.”
And the Yankees fans who had flocked to Flushing were having a hell of a good time, too. They seemed as impervious to the pennant pressure as any veteran big-leaguer, enjoying the unfamiliar surroundings and seeming perfectly content to ride things out until the guys in gray inevitably figured out a way to win this thing.
Then Hechavarria swung the bat.
And by the time the ball finally fell, it was Rays 2, Yankees 1 and …
“Sometimes you score two runs and that’s enough,” Girardi said. “Tonight it wasn’t meant to be.”
It probably would be unfair to compare the sound that accompanied that shot on its path over the left-field wall with the one that had filled the joint 11 months earlier, when the Giants’ Conor Gillaspie broke Mets fans’ hearts with a three-run blast off Jeurys Familia late in the National League wild-card game. That was a playoff game, after all, and it carried the threat — and, too soon, the reality — of elimination.
This didn’t end anything except the party atmosphere that had infiltrated the Tampa Bay Rays’ temporary home field. Six thousand more folks found their way to Queens for this game than the one Monday, and they’d opened the place up a little more, and it still seemed a little surreal to see the Yankees playing a road game against a home team wearing “TB” on their hats.
“That felt a little weird, for sure,” Gray said of hearing home-crowd roars throughout a road game taking place maybe 12 miles from their home yard.
But the blast was a visceral blow, both in the immediate and in the aftermath. Hechavarria motored around the bases in silence — maybe the first time the Rays really have felt at home in two days. And the out-of-town scoreboard had been no source of solace all night, not after an early 1-0 Oakland lead became a 3-1 Red Sox lead, then 5-1, then 8-1, finally 11-1.
So that made it one more day off the calendar at the end of the day than at the start, one more game in arrears behind the Red Sox at the end than at the start. It’s four full games now with 18 to play — not insurmountable but not what the Yankees had in mind when they took an early 1-0 lead on a walk, a ground out and an RBI double by Matt Holliday.
The way Gray was pitching, it seemed the Yankees could take their time scoring the necessary runs to win. But that seems to happen a lot when Gray pitches. He’s lost five games as a Yankee; in those games, the Yankees have scored a grand total of four runs. It is the most maddening aspect of this season, by far: the Yankees regularly sprinkling 12- and 15-run poundings into the mix, interspersed with too many nights when it seems like the offense has gone on a full austerity budget.
It’s a tough way to be when you’re trying to mount a closing kick in the race.
“Any time you lose, it’s a tough thing to swallow,” Gray said “It’s not a fun feeling.”
Not ever, really. But certainly not in September. At home. On the road. Everywhere in between.