ST. Petersburg, Fla. — The Yankees got back into Tuesday night’s game in an unlikely manner: a Marwin Gonzalez two-run homer in the top of the ninth that got them to within a run.
The blast got them just where they’d hoped when the inning started, as Aaron Judge came to the plate as the tying run.
Pinch hitting for Joey Gallo against lefty Colin Poche, Judge sent a fly ball to left, but broke his bat on the play, as their comeback fell short in a 5-4 loss at Tropicana Field.
“Every time he steps to the plate, you’re expecting something to happen,” Gonzalez said of Judge. “He’s the best player in the league right now.”
But Judge couldn’t work his magic on Tuesday.
“We heard the sound [of the bat breaking],” Gonzalez said. “When we saw the ball flying, we expected to go [out]. Everybody else hits a ball like that, it’s a bloop over shortstop. Unfortunately, it didn’t go out.”
The Yankees were in that spot because Nestor Cortes was hitting hard for the second time in his last three starts, as the left-hander allowed a season-high three homers, all on cutters.
It was the Yankees’ second loss in three games. They’ve still dropped just two of their past 12 games, and three of 20 in falling to 50-18 on the season.
Isaac Paredes — who hit three homers on the night — and Harold Ramirez went back-to-back off Cortes at the bottom of the first.
The Yankees tied the game in the second on a two-run single by DJ LeMahieu.
But Cortes’ rough night continued in the third, as Paredes took him deep again to give the Rays a 3-2 lead.
The lefty had allowed just six homers in his 12 starts prior to Tuesday and was knocked out in the fifth after a one-out single by Yandy Diaz — and Paredes coming up again.
Clarke Schmidt entered and had the same fate as Cortes, with Paredes homering for the third time on the night to make it 5-2.
An array of Rays relievers quieted the Yankee lineup, as Tampa Bay used seven pitchers to win for just the second time in eight games as the Rays try to hold off the Red Sox to stay in third.
The Yankees threatened in the eighth, as LeMahieu and Josh Donaldson drew walks against Luke Raley before Anthony Rizzo popped out to left.
And the inning ended when Stanton smashed a hard grounder to the right of Taylor Walls that the shortstop was able to get to and turn into a double play.
Cortes is in the midst of his first rough patch of the season.
The Twins got to him for four runs in 4 ¹/₃ innings on June 8 before he bounced back with a solid outing last Wednesday against the Rays in The Bronx.
But on Tuesday, facing Tampa Bay for the second time in less than a week and third time since May 26, Cortes was smacked around — and not just the homers were hitting hard.
Diaz smoked a liner to left in the third and a single in the fifth.
Cortes said the fact the Rays had seen him so often in recent weeks was “definitely on my mind.”
“It probably gave them a little advantage, but if I located better, I could’ve done the job,” Cortes said.
Aaron Boone believed the Rays “sold out” on looking for the cutter at times and added he didn’t let Cortes stay in the game longer to try to get his stuff back because he doesn’t have the experience of some of their other starters .
Cortes left with an ERA north of 2.00 for the first time this season (2.31) and the Yankees lost for just the second time in Cortes’ last eight outings.
Ron Marinaccio, the third Yankee pitcher of the night, hit Paredes with a pitch with two outs in the seventh, but it was an 83 mph changeup.