NEW YORK – Once they got done exhaling, the Rays had reason to celebrate Thursday.
In hanging on for a 3-1 win and taking two of the three games, they won their first series at Yankee Stadium since the middle of the 2014 season.
Twelve times since they came, they played and they lost more than they won, a streak of futility unmatched by any team since this version of the stadium opened in 2009. Only one current Rays player, Kevin Kiermaier, and one coach, Stan Boroski, are still around from the three-game sweep by the Joe Maddon-managed team on June 30-July 2, 2014.
As you'd expect, Thursday's win didn't come easy.
The Rays took a 2-0 lead in the first off Masahiro Tanaka, but failed to add on due to several mistakes on the bases before tacking on one in the eighth.
They got five strong innings from Blake Snell, then mixed and matched five relievers to get through the final four frames.
Sergio Romo was trying for his 100th career save – but allowed the first three Yankees to reach in the ninth, giving up singles to Didi Gregorius and Gleyber Torres, then walking Neil Walker.
The Rays (62-59) turned to lefty Adam Kolarek, who got Greg Bird on a foul pop up, struck out Brett Gardner and struck out Austin Romine to end it.
There was some controversy, too. The umpires first called an eight-inning drive by Giancarlo Stanton to the rightfield corner a homer that would have cut the gap to 3-2, but after a video review showed what seemed obvious that the ball hit the outfield wall, Stanton was sent back to second, where Romo left him stranded. Also worth noting, Stanton wouldn't have gotten to the plate if rookie shortstop Willy Adames hadn't made an errant throw on what could have been an inning-ending double play.
It was going to be hard for Snell to match the execution and efficiency of his last outing, when he retired all 15 Blue Jays he faced, and on 47 pitches. He needed 75 to get through five on Thursday, but the bottom line wasn't much different as he allowed only two hits and a walk while hanging five zeroes.
That was it for the day, as the Rays continue a slow build-up since his two-plus week stint on the DL due to shoulder fatigue.
The bullpen took it from there, as Chaz Roe got two outs, Jose Alvarado four, Ryne Stanek two, Romo one and then Kolarek the last three for his first career save.
Having been shut out and held to three hits over nine innings by Tanaka on July 24 at the Trop, the Rays jumped on him early Thursday, rapping four straight hits to start the game and take a 2-0 lead.
Mallex Smith got them started, as he has been doing often, with a single and then stole second. Joey Wendle, playing third with Matt Duffy off, followed with an RBI double. A Jake Bauers single that shortstop Didi Gregorius couldn't glove put runners on the corners. Then Tommy Pham, fresh off the DL, doubled into the leftfield corner, scoring Wendle.
The Rays made it interesting from there, as Bauers tried to get to third, made an awkward dive that never quite got him to the base, turned toward home, stopped and then started toward the plate, enough to get Pham to third, though he was stranded.
The Rays extended the lead in the eighth. Smith was again the catalyst with a leadoff single. An errant throw by third baseman Miguel Andujar on Joey Wendle's bunt put runners on the corners. And a well-placed bunt by Bauers up the first-base line got the run home.
The Rays left after the game for Boston, where they open a three-game series with the majors-best Red Sox on Friday night.
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.