The strangeness of watching a baseball game in the Mets’ park without a Met on the premises had lessened somewhat by the second night of the Yankees-Tampa Bay Rays series at Citi Field.
But only slightly.
There was the public address announcer heralding the home team taking the field with “Ladies and gentleman, your Tampa Bay Rays!” to a predictable chorus of boos.
And the audio piped into the restrooms carried the voices of Dave Wills and Andy Freed, radio broadcasters for the Rays, who had to come north for this series because of Hurricane Irma. Walk-up music played only for Rays batters — a soundtrack that included Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” for Lucas Duda, which was heard here many times during Duda’s tenure as a Met.
Completing the illusion that this was a Rays home game, the stands were filled with Yankees fans, as the seats at Tropicana Field often are when the teams meet there — not far from the Yankees’ spring-training complex.
And those fans were on their feet, cheering for the visiting team, at what appeared to be the critical moment in the game: Fifth inning, game tied at 1, Rays at first and third with one out. The crowd erupted when Yankees starter Sonny Gray escaped by striking out Adeiny Hechavarria and Kevin Kiermaier with particularly nasty sliders
“It felt a little weird for sure,” Gray said. “We had a pretty good turnout tonight with Yankee fans. It definitely was a different feeling, and it was at the point in the game where it was a really big situation, so that was exciting.”
But the excitement never rose to that level again, although there was an even bigger situation to come — an eighth-inning solo home run by Hechavarria off Gray that made him and the Yankees 2-1 losers and sent the crowd of 21,024 home unhappy, even though the “home” team had won.
“Anytime you lose, it’s tough to swallow, no matter how it happens,” Gray (9-10) said. “It’s not a fun feeling.”
Before the Rays could make themselves too comfortable, they were reminded that they were guests in the building after their leadoff hitter, Kevin Kiermaier, clubbed Gray’s first pitch over the right-centerfield fence.
In an omission that could be fully appreciated only by Mets fans, the mechanical Home Run Apple beyond the center field fence remained stubbornly in its enclosure.
Kiermaier’s homer had tied the score. After a run-scoring double by Matt Holliday in the top of the first, the Yankees managed just one more hit off Rays starter Blake Snell over five-plus innings — he left after Brett Gardner’s leadoff single in the sixth — and one off Rays reliever Steve Cishek.
Gray lost the game on a fastball that lingered up in the zone to Hechavarria, the Rays’ No. 9 hitter, who hit his sixth homer of the season.
Again, the apple did not rise. The Yankees merely sank.
“I threw that same pitch numerous times tonight and got people out,” Gray said. “I’m going to challenge guys, and I just got beat there. I got beat at the point of a game where you can’t get beat.”
It was a particularly bitter defeat for Gray, who for the fifth time in his eight starts as a Yankee was supported by one run or fewer. Aside from the two home run pitches, Gray was brilliant, striking out nine in eight innings and allowing just five hits.
“He has pitched really well for us,” Manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s unfortunate, but over time, it’s going to work out when you pitch that well. Over the long haul, when you pitch like that, it’s going to work out really well for everyone involved.”
But the Yankees could do little with Snell, Cishek, Dan Jennings, Tommy Hunter and closer Alex Colome. Aaron Judge struck out three times, twice looking. Starlin Castro, in an 0-for-14 slump, went 0-for-4, including a grounder for the last out of the game. After the first inning, the Yankees never got a runner past first base.
For the first game of this series, on Monday, only the lower deck was open and a crowd of 15,327 showed up. On Tuesday, two additional sections of seats were opened, in the second deck in left and right field, and nearly every available seat was occupied.
According to a spokesman for Major League Baseball, the game was still expected to lose money because of low ticket prices and other extenuating circumstances, including travel expenses for the Rays.
First baseman Greg Bird , who was scratched before Monday’s game because he had back spasms during batting practice, had a magnetic resonance imaging test early Tuesday. The Yankees did not release the results, but Bird, who has missed 103 games this season because of an ankle injury that required surgery, said he believed he would be able to play Wednesday.