Sure, the Rays would have loved nothing more than to have swept the Yankees. Even with a frustrating finish to Sunday’s 2-1 loss at Tropicana Field, taking two of three from a division rival they are creeping up on the American League East was nonetheless pretty nice.

Rays Notebook: Closing The Gap; Springs Rolling Along

Sure, the Rays would have loved nothing more than to have swept the Yankees. Even with a frustrating finish to Sunday’s 2-1 loss at Tropicana Field, taking two of three from a division rival they are creeping up on the American League East was nonetheless pretty nice.
Credit: Tampa Bay Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Sure, the Rays would have loved nothing more than to have swept the Yankees. Even with a frustrating finish to Sunday’s 2-1 loss at Tropicana Field, taking two of three from a division rival they are creeping up on the American League East was nonetheless pretty nice.

“It was good to win two out of three,” said Manny Margot, via translator Manny Navarro. “It would have been nice to win all three, but they battled and played good baseball.”

Trailing 2-0, the Rays battled to the last out. They pushed a run across and had the winning run on base with two outs when Yandy Diaz was called out on strikes by umpire Vic Carapazza to end the game. Clay Holmes’ 102-mph delivery on a full-count pitch appeared low. A frustrated Diaz voiced his displeasure and slammed his helmet while the Yankees escaped St. Pete sweep.

Still, the series win, the Rays’ sixth in their last seven series, brought them to within five games of the Yankees. They are second in the wild-card chase, one game behind Seattle and with a 3.5-game lead on Baltimore, which is fourth in the wild-card standings and the first team out.

“If we can win series, we’re going to find ourselves in a really good spot,” said Cash, whose team allowed only three run in the series.

The Rays head into Monday’s three-game series opener (4:10) against Boston having won 16 of their last 21. Since trailing the Yankees by 15.5 games on July 10, they are 29-18 while New York is 19-29.

“I don’t think we should be too worried,” said Christian Bethancourt, on Friday night when asked about the prospects of winning the division. “We should just be positive, play baseball, and try to win series. The more series we win, we will be in a good spot and we are more than capable of doing that.”

Following the series against Boston, the Rays get a breather Thursday before hitting the road with a three-game series against the Yankees followed by five games in Toronto. While they will conclude their season series with New York, the Rays will see plenty of the Blue Jays down the stretch as they meet four more times (Sept. 22-25) against them at Tropicana Field to wrap up the home portion of the schedule.

Answering the bell: Shawn Armstrong has made a couple of vital contributions to the Rays’ cause of late. He was summoned literally at the last minute to replace the injured Shane McClanahan on August 30 at Miami and proceeded to throw three shoutout inning on 48 pitches. On Sunday, he allowed a leadoff home to Aaron Judge – the only hit he allowed — before blanking the Yankees the rest of the way in another three-inning (39 pitches) start.

“I said from day one, whatever situation they put me in, I will take the ball and do the best I can,” said the righthander, who the Marlins designated for assignment in early May and was signed to a minor league deal by the Rays a few days later.

Cash appreciates the effort Armstrong, who turns 32 Sunday, has provided at such a critical time.

“He gave us three complete inning,” he said of Sunday’s outing. “Very encouraging. He is throwing the ball so well for us.”

Hot Springs: Since the calendar flipped to August, Jeffrey Springs is 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA in six starts. He threw 97 pitches in 5 2/3 innings Friday night against the Yankees, but did not allow a run and fanned seven in a 9-0 win. The effort improved his season’s numbers to 7-4 with a 2.62 ERA.

The lefty credits keeping batters consistently off balance for his recent string of success.

“Being able to move the ball around, keep them guessing, sticking to my strengths, change speeds and try to be as unpredictable as I can,” he said.

Springs will get the start Wednesday night against the Red Sox.

Hot and Cold: Since going 0-for-4 on August 22 at Anaheim, Yandy Diaz has reached base safely in 11 straight. In that stretch, he is hitting .418 (18-for-43) with eight walks for an on-base percentage of .509. He heads into Monday’s game having reached safely in 13 of his last 21 plate appearances….Since coming off the injured list August 16, Harold Ramirez has hit safely in 14 of 16 games. He is hitting .324 (23-for-71) with 13 RBI….Ji-Man Choi is in a month-long funk (3-for-48 w/22 SO) that has dropped his average from .259 to .228…..Over the course of his last 11 games, Taylor Walls is 5-for-his-last-38 (.131.).

Adjust your calendar: With a new school year underway, first pitch on weeknights (except Friday) has reverted back to 6:40. The Rays played 10 such games in the season’s first two months before returning to the customary 7:10 first pitch during the summer months.

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