By LARRY FLEISHER, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Gary Sánchez and Rougned Odor both struck out with two runners on to blunt a ninth-inning rally and the New York Yankees’ lead atop the AL wild-card lead got even tighter with a 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.
The Yankees’ edge fell to one game over Boston and two games over Toronto after those contenders each won. Seattle was two games back of New York going into the night.
New York needed a win plus a loss by either Boston or Seattle to clinch its fifth straight playoff appearance. Instead, the Yankees fell short against the AL East champion Rays in the opener of a season-ending three-game series.
The Yankees lost for only the second time in 10 games.
Rookie Wander Franco gave the Rays a 4-1 lead by chopping a grounder up the middle for a two-run single in the ninth. His hit came a few pitches after he missed a three-run homer by lining a ball a few feet foul in left.
Franco’s hit also came a night after he went 0 for 4 to snap a 43-game on-base streak, which tied Frank Robinson in 1956 for the longest such string in MLB history among players 20 or younger.
After Franco gave the Rays a three-run lead, the Yankees nearly pulled off a comeback.
Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge allowed Giancarlo Stanton’s one-out double and a bunt RBI single by Joey Gallo. Brett Gardner followed by singling home a run before Kittredge fanned Sánchez and Odor to end the game.
Kevin Kiermaier put the Rays ahead with an RBI single in the second, hitting a soft fly just beyond the reach of shortstop Gio Urshela.
Nelson Cruz hit his 32nd homer, connecting in the first against Nelson Cortes Jr. The Rays improved to 10-7 in the season series and 6-2 at Yankee Stadium this year. The Rays are 11-3 in the Bronx in the last two seasons.
Rookie Shane McClanhan tuned up for the postseason by allowing one run on three hits in three innings. Pete Fairbanks tossed a scoreless fourth and Louis Head (2-0) pitched 2 1/3 innings.
Josh Fleming pitched two perfect innings before Kittredge nearly stumbled.
The Yankees honored the 60th anniversary of Roger Maris hitting his 61st homer to break Babe Ruth’s single-season record by having his son, Kevin, virtually throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Cruz’s homer was his 449th, tying him for 40th on the all-time list with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Jeff Bagwell.
Cruz has 13 homers with the Rays and 292 since the 2014 season, the most in the majors.
YANKEES: 3B DJ LeMahieu was held out of the starting lineup because of right hip soreness and was to meet with a doctor. LeMahieu left Thursday’s game at Toronto in the sixth inning. … RHP Jameson Taillon (right ankle) threw a bullpen that manager Aaron Boone said went well. Boone said Taillon is a candidate to start Sunday.
UP NEXT: Rays RHP Shane Baz (2-0, 1.69 ERA) opposes LHP Jordan Montgomery (6-6, 3.49).
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