Travis d’Arnaud was down to his last strike and so were the Tampa Bay Rays, trailing by two runs with two on and two outs in the ninth inning against All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman.
D’Arnaud hacked at the next pitch, fouling off a 160kph heater. Then another. After two tempting balls in the dirt, he faced a full count.
Chapman came back with a slider high and away — and D’Arnaud sent it high and away.
The catcher on Monday hit his third home run of the game, a go-ahead drive that sailed over leaping right fielder Aaron Judge for a startling shot that helped the Rays overcome their Yankee Stadium woes and beat New York 5-4.
“Coolest night ever,” D’Arnaud said.
D’Arnaud’s three-run homer kept drifting, landing just one or two rows deep beyond the short right field porch. Several teammates spilled from the dugout to congratulate D’Arnaud, while a crowd of 43,173 fell silent.
“Trav just put the team on his back,” Rays starter Blake Snell said.
The 30-year-old backstop tied a Tampa Bay record for homers in a game. It has been done five times, most recently by Evan Longoria in 2012. This, after he almost missed his ride to the Bronx earlier.
“I thought the bus was at 2:30 and it was 1:58,” D’Arnaud said. “And I was walking in, asking if the bus was at 2:30, and they said no. So I just walked right on the bus.”
The Yankees had been 49-0 this season when leading after eight innings. The Rays won for just the second time in seven games in the Bronx this year and cut New York’s lead in the American League East to five games.
Andrew Kittredge (1-0) got the win, despite allowing Edwin Encarnacion’s second homer, a two-run shot in the eighth that put the Yankees up 4-2.
Oliver Drake got one out for his first save, throwing a called third strike past Luke Voit with a runner on.
Chapman (2-2) gave up a pair of singles to begin the ninth, struck out the next two batters and then was tagged for D’Arnaud’s ninth homer of the season.
“It’s a little difficult, you know, when you don’t think he gets it all, ends up getting the homer, but that’s the way the game is,” Chapman said via a translator.
D’Arnaud has had a tumultuous season, having been released by the Mets, signed by the Dodgers and traded to the Rays five days later, but none of that mattered as he became the first catcher to hit three homers in a game against the Yankees.
He said it was the only time in his career he has hit three homers in one game.
The once highly touted prospect led off the game with a homer to right field on a fastball over the middle of the plate. In the third, he hit another to a similar location on the same pitch from James Paxton — a fastball down the middle.
D’Arnaud had never batted leadoff before this season, but the Rays have slotted him there seven times. He reached base in all five of his plate appearances, with two walks.
It was the fourth multi-homer game of D’Arnaud’s career and his second this season.
Also on Monday, the Dodgers thrashed the Phillies 16-2, the Red Sox beat the Blue Jays 10-8, the Giants routed the Rockies 19-2 in the first game and edged the second 2-1, the Indians tamed the Tigers 8-6, the Reds crushed the Cubs 6-3, the Royals whipped the White Sox 5-2, the Braves beat the Brewers 4-2, the Cardinals crushed the Pirates 7-0 and the Angels defeated the Astros 9-6.
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