After another ’embarassing’ loss, Yankees searching for answers as AL East lead fades

After another 'embarassing' loss, Yankees searching for answers as AL East lead fades

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Somewhere, under a pile of errors, and another string of empty at-bats, it’s there.

That’s what the New York Yankees tell themselves.

That’s what they cling to.

A team that once enjoyed a 15 ½ game lead, making a boat race out of the AL East, is still there under all that debris.

But even the ever-optimistic Aaron Boone was moved to call Friday night’s 9-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays “embarrassing,” which is exactly what it was.

“We should be (ticked) off, embarrassed,” Boone said of starting the September stretch run with a spectacular dud at Tropicana Field against the second-place Rays.

How the Yankees have resolved from comparisons to the franchise’s 114-win 1998 club to the 91-loss 1991 club – in two short months – sounds like bad fiction.

“We’re still in first place,” said Aaron Judge, but the Rays are five games behind, with five more games against the Yankees over the next nine days.

New York Yankees left fielder Andrew Benintendi (18) leaves the game during an at bat against the Tampa Bay Rays in the third inning at Tropicana Field.

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And that Rays team, with holes in its rotation, Wander Franco still missing from its lineup, and a bullpen without any bold-faced names, has found its footing again.

They’re never intimidated by the Yankees anyway.

They’re used to battling with rosters a fraction of the Yanks’ payroll, playing to Friday night home crowds of less than 18,000 fans, helped of them rooting for the visitors.

All the pressure has switched to the Yankees team that was supposed to be coasting into October.

Aaron Judge: “You’ve got to bring it.”

If the Yankees win this division by a fraction, Judge – on a march toward Roger Maris’ franchise single-season home run record – will have earned his AL MVP.

At this point, there’s no reason any Rays pitcher should throw him a strike until further notice.

Giancarlo Stanton has gone into a deep freeze, and DJ LeMahieu hasn’t been the same since his big toe issue – something that might need an offseason procedure to fully address, as Boone suggested.

Gleyber Torres’ second-half swoon reached the point where he was batting No. 7, behind Jose Trevino, and Josh Donaldson never looked more lost than Friday’s 0-for-4, with two errors at third base – on successive fourth-inning plays, leading to Tampa Bay’s first run.

And that came after the Yankees lost another key left-handed bat.

On a third-inning swing, Andrew Benintendi felt a “pop” in his right wrist and quickly exited the game, with an MRI scheduled for Saturday.

Already, Anthony Rizzo was unavailable for this series, having received an epidural for his chronic, aching lower back.

You might recall the Yankees’ lead on Tampa Bay was 11.5 games on Aug. 8, the night when Matt Carpenter fractured his left foot on a foul ball.

“We’ve got to score,” Boone said, adding that “there can’t be an excuse for everything,” on a night when the Yanks went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 on base .

“We haven’t been great as a team scoring guys on base,” Donaldson said of the need to do “a better job” in that category.

“We’ve got everything we need right here in this room,” said Judge, but “We’ve got to bring it every single day.

“Today’s over with. We’ve got to bring it tomorrow, plain and simple. That’s what it comes down to. (If you’re) feeling good, not feeling good, you’ve got to bring it no matter what.”

Aaron Boone: “It’s got to be better”

If there was any hope Friday, Domingo German provided it with his third straight start of length and quality, keeping the Yanks in a 1-0 game entering the seventh.

German lamented serving up a two-run homer to No. 8 hitter Christian Bethancourt, but the Yanks weren’t scoring, and an ineffective Anthony Banda keyed a six-run avalanche in the eighth.

“Hopefully, one of those rock-bottom situations,” said Boone, after summoning utility man Marwin Gonzalez to get the final out that inning, retiring the one batter he faced on a comebacker.

That’s how you get to “embarrassing” on a road trip that includes two losses apiece to the lowly Athletics and Angels.

Boone feels “the effort and the care is there,” despite an unsightly 15-25 post-All-Star break record.

This is now a test of their resolve.

“It’s got to be better, period,” Boone said of his club’s performance.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Yankees’ latest loss to Tampa Bay Rays has AL East lead in danger