After relishing in a pregame ceremony Friday, during which it bestowed lavish cheers and love on Derek Jeter, a boisterous Yankee Stadium crowd spent much of the next few hours voicing its frustrations with the current Yankees.
While the loudest boos were reserved for Aaron Hicks, who was pulled mid-game after a pair of defensive miscues in left field, the rest of the Yankees were not immune from the grumblings as they lost to the Rays 4-2 in front of a sellout crowd of 46,160.
After the rough start to a critical series against the Rays (78-58), the Yankees (83-56) now lead Tampa Bay by just 3 ½ games in the AL East. That’s the smallest their division lead has been since May 9.
Another stripped-down Yankees lineup could not mount any offense against Rays right-hander Drew Rasmussen, who struck out 10 over six shutout innings. The Yankees scored a pair of runs against the Rays bullpen, but it wasn’t enough.
“The season waits for no one,” manager Aaron Boone said before the game. “Our job is to prepare as best we can for a really good opponent. … We know where we are, we know we’re banged up, we know we’re certainly in the midst of some adversity from a roster standpoint. But it’s opportunity for guys and we gotta get ready to play.”
A reprieve from the boos came in the seventh inning, when Aaron Judge, naturally, roped an RBI single off lefty reliever Jalen Beeks that scored Oswald Peraza — who ducked under the tag at home and was ruled safe upon replay review — to get the Yankees within 4-1.
Another came in the ninth, when Kyle Higashioka crushed a solo homer to make it 4-2. After Marwin Gonzalez flew out to the warning track, Judge drew a walk to bring up Gleyber Torres, who also flew out to the warning track to end it.
The Rays, meanwhile, got to Frankie Montas for four runs across 5 ²/₃ innings. Three of those runs scored on a pair of rough plays from Hicks in left field that led to him being pulled after the fourth inning.
Hicks’ first mishap came with one out and runners on first and second. Rays star Wander Franco, who went 3-for-5 in his return from an extended stay on the injured list, hit a fly ball to left field. Hicks ran to track it down, but dropped the ball just before he stepped across the foul line. He then took a few seconds to pick it up, seemingly thinking it was foul. In the process, both runners scored and Franco reached second for a double and a 3-0 lead.
After Hicks was showered with loud boos and a brief “Joey Gallo” chant, Randy Arozarena came up and ripped a line drive to left that got over Hicks’ head and dropped for an RBI double that put the Rays up 4-0.
Boone then called on Estevan Florial to replace Hicks in left field to begin the fifth inning, a move that drew cheers from the exasperated crowd.
Hicks had lost his everyday job last month after the arrival of Andrew Benintendi, but recent injuries to Benintendi and a slew of other Yankees led to Hicks getting back in the lineup more regularly — as the No. 3 hitter, no less, on Friday night. He went 0-for-2 with a pair of strikeouts.
The Rays quickly jumped on Montas in the first inning. They swung at each of the first three pitches he threw, with the latter two going for back-to-back doubles from Franco and Arozarena that gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead.
The Yankees threatened to answer in the third inning against Rasmussen, as a Judge single put runners on first and third with one out. But Torres and Hicks followed with strikeouts, each drawing boos from the crowd.