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Yankees Hold Off Rays' Late Rally, Win 2-1 to Extend Lead to 5 Games in AL East Race

The consensus in the Tampa Bay locker room is that no one knows a strike zone better than clutch hitter Yandy Diaz. But he got rung up on a low pitch with two on and two outs in the ninth inning, and it helped give the New York Yankees a 2-1 win in the series finale on Sunday at Tropicana Field.
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The setting was perfect for a last-inning rally. The Tampa Bay Rays had Yandy Diaz, their most professional hitter, at the plate with two men in scoring position in a one-run game. A sweep of the New York Yankees, the American League East leader, was on the line.

With a full count against struggling Yankees closer Clay Holmes, Diaz took a 101-mile fastball low. The replay clearly showed the ball was a couple of inches below the strike zone, but home plate umpire Vic Carapazza rang him up for strike three anyway, and the game was over. The Yankees won, 2-1.

It was a frustrating finish to a great weekend for the Rays, who took two out of three games from the Yankees and held them to just three runs in three games. The had the right man at the plate, and the right situation. But it didn't happen.

Diaz was angry about it, too. He slammed down his helmet after the strike call and stared down Carapazza with his hands on his hips. He was upset afterward, too, and declined to meet with the media.

It was a tough situation.

"You're going to have to go back to the video, but just looking at his reaction, you know he's the type of guy who knows the strike zone and has a good eye at the plate,'' Rays outfielder Manuel Margot said through interpreter Manny Navarro. "That gives you an idea about what the call was. He's one of our better hitters, better players (in that moment). It just didn't happen.''

Runs were hard to come by all day in the second-straight 2-1 game in the series. The Yankees scored on the second pitch of the game when MVP candidate Aaron Judge hit the second pitch from Rays starter Shawn Armstrong deep into the left field seats. 

The lead held, with Yankees starter Frankie Montas (5-11) plowing through the Rays hitters. Even though Montas has struggled this season — especially during his month with the Yankees — he's been tough on the Rays. In two early-season starts while still with Oakland, he pitched a combined 13 1/3 innings and allowed just one earned run total and only nine hits.

He was that good again on Sunday, pitching five scoreless innings and allowing just one hit, a Yandy Diaz single to center field in the third inning. He had seven strikeouts, but threw 93 pitches.

"You've got to give him a lot of credit,'' Margot said. "He was making really good pitches and he did a good job of locating his pitches.'' 

The Rays got good pitching, too. Armstrong settled right back down after the Judge homer and pitched three innings without giving up another hit. Ryan Yarbrough followed and pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings.

The Yankees added another run in the seventh, and Judge was in the middle of that, too, doubling to right field to open the inning. DJ LeMahieu followed and hit a ground ball to Taylor Walls at shortstop. Judge broke on contact, and Walls tried to gun him down at third on a bang-bang play. Judge made a great slide and was safe at third. He scored three pitches later on a sacrifice fly from Oswaldo Cabrera, making it 2-0.

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"I ran through that play in my mind before it even happened,'' Walls said. "I knew with Yarbs throwing, that he'd get LeMahieu leaning over the plate and if he threw a changeup, I might get something to my right. The game was tight, not a lot of runs being scored, and every run mattered in that situation.

"I saw him be aggressive, and I knew I would have a bang-bang play and have a chance, and 10 out of 10 times I'd do the same thing. He made a really good slide, and I just felt it was a risk I had to take in that moment.'' 

The Rays had a good scoring chance in seventh when David Peralta led off with a double and Isaac Paredes walked right behind him, but Christian Bethancourt lined out to right and Walls struck out. Jonathan Aranda walked to loaded the bases, but Diaz hit a broken-bat ground ball to shortstop to end the bases-loaded threat.

In the ninth, the Rays got after struggling Yankees closer Clay Holmes. Peralta doubled again, and went to third on a fly ball to right. Francisco Mejia pinch-hit for Bethancourt and singled to center to make it 2-1.

After Walls lined out, Jonathan Aranda doubled, sending Mejia to third. But Holmes got the call on Diaz on strike three, and that was that.

"I don't think there's another guy on this team that anyone in here would rather have up in that situation,'' Walls said. 'It kind of got taken out of his hands, but that's the nature of the game. If there's anybody in here that I trust to tell me if a pitch was a ball or a strike, it'd be him. If he took it and reacted that way, I trust it wasn't in the zone.''

With the loss, the Rays are now five games behind the Yankees in the AL East race, and they have three games remaining in the season series next weekend in New York. New York leads the series 9-7, and holding the tie-breaker does matter a lot for determining playoff spots.

Winning two out of three is good, so they'll take that. But next weekend, to win the season series, they'll need to win all three.

"We had a couple of first-and-second situations and weren't able to move guys,'' Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Montas was really good. They pitched well, we pitched well, but our hits just came a little too late. It was the kind of game you'd expect to play against a good team like that.

"If we can keep winning series, we're going to find ourselves in a good spot.''

The Rays' homestand continues on Monday with the start of a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox. There's an early start on Monday, Labor Day, and the game starts at 4:10 p.m. ET. The night games on Tuesday and Wednesday start at 6:40 p.m. ET. 

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