To steal a line from Bobby Bonilla of all people, Travis d’Arnaud, even in the game of his life, couldn’t knock the smile off Aroldis Chapman’s face.
Did you see how the Yankees’ closer appeared practically bemused late Monday night, having just served up a game-losing, three-run, ninth-inning homer to the former Mets catcher, who drove in each and every Rays run Monday night in the Yankees’ 5-4 loss to their top American League East challenger at Yankee Stadium?
That didn’t change inside the Yankees’ clubhouse, as an upbeat-looking Chapman exchanged a few remarks with his teammate Luis Cessa before getting dressed and dutifully addressing the media.
The Yankees have themselves another challenge here, the resilient Rays climbing within five games (seven in the loss column) of them as the Red Sox lag far behind. If they can take any solace from this stunning loss, in which they stood just one strike away from victory, it’s that they’ve all seen worse.
“It’s tough giving up a homer,” Chapman said through an interpreter. “But that’s the way the game is.”
This d’Arnaud homer off a Chapman full-count slider, unlike his two solo shots against Yankees starter James Paxton, served as a Yankee Stadium special, traveling an estimated 355 feet, the exit velocity a modest 97 miles per hour.
“The way he hit that ball, I thought we had a chance to catch it,” said Chapman, who blew his fourth save in 29 opportunities. “But not the case tonight.”
“I think he thought it was a fly ball,” Aaron Boone said of his closer. “Obviously, here, that’ll get you.”
Boone offered multiple verbal bouquets to the Rays, who have now defeated the Yankees three straight times to close the season series to 9-5 in the Yankees’ favor.
“It’s a really good team,” the Yankees’ manager said. “They’ve picked themselves off the mat, too. We’ve kind of had our way with them. They’ve come back with some big hits in some big spots obviously. Especially d’Arnaud.”
The likeable d’Arnaud, having been released by the discordant Mets back in May, now owns a .266/.319/.461 slash line with the Rays, who are salvage experts. Given the huge payroll disparity between the two clubs that very well might grow wider by the July 31 trade deadline, the Rays must stay ultra-resourceful to overcome the Yankees.
The Yankees? They’ll have to maintain the resiliency they have displayed all season long as they have overcome injury after injury. Shoot, Monday night’s game played out like another such win for the montage, Edwin Encarnacion’s two-run, eighth-inning bomb (his second homer of the night) off Tampa Bay’s Andrew Kittredge breaking a 2-2 tie and giving Chapman his chance to close after Gio Urshela’s seventh-inning shot against Emilio Pagan erased the Yankees’ one-run deficit.
Even with this loss, the Yankees’ 24-14 record against winning teams, a .632 winning percentage, ranks as the best in the industry, as per YES Network researcher/statistician James Smyth. They have proven their ability to beat the best. The Rays are ensuring that they’ll have to keep reproving that.
Encarnacion, asked about his recent uptick and his work in both the cage and the video room, vowed, “I’m going to continue to do that.” He might as well have been speaking for the entire team. Will they continue to shrug off tough losses and avoid long losing streaks?
Bonilla, back when he signed with the Mets in the 1991-92 offseason, dared the media to remove his smile. Bonilla lost that faceoff by technical knockout. Can the Rays get the Yankees stop smiling? More than ever, it appears that if they can’t do it, no one — at least in the regular season — can.
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