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Not many witnesses as Rays stop Yankees

in Sports/The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Maybe it’s because the New York Yankees suddenly draw (or do not) like just another team, the Tampa Bay Rays are treating them that way.

The  Tampa Bay Rays drubbed the first-place Yankees Thursday night, cruising to a 6-2 lead before an unlikely hero named Erasmo Ramirez, who won for the first time in 13 ½ months. For Tampa Bay, it was a welcome sight after the team had lost both Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly from their pitching rotation because of injury.

Yeah, you should have seen it.

Someone should have.

For the fourth straight night, the Rays crowd was embarrassing. In a four-game series, the Rays drew their worst-ever crowd against New York, and their second worst, and their third worst, and their fourth worst. This is the Yankees, a team that can usually be counted on to bump a bad attendance figure. Not this time. Only 11,924 watched.

The poor crowds follow two trends. One is that the Rays are once again near the bottom of the heap in drawing fans (29th of 30 teams, ahead of only Cleveland). The other is the Yankees are the worst road attendance team in the league this year. (A figure that is affected, no doubt, by seven dates in Tropicana Field so far this year), roughly one-third of their schedule.

Ramirez made sure that if no one was coming, well, there was nothing to see. He pitched five innings, and he allowed only one hit, and he led the Rays to an easy 6-1 win and their third victory in the four game series. The Rays are now four games above .500 for the first time since the famed Game 163 of 2013. It brought the Rays within one game of the first-place Yankees in the AL East.

Ramirez? He hadn’t won a game since April 1 of 2013, his first start last year. Since then, he went 25 appearances, 15 starts and seven losses. In his first start for the Rays this year, he lasted only 3 1/3 innings in a 12-7 loss to Toronto, giving up eight earned runs for his effort.

It was hardly the stuff dreams are made of.

Yet, on Thursday night, Ramirez looked like a man putting in a bid for the role as the team’s fifth starter. He kept the Yankees on their heels, throwing whatever catcher Rene Rivera asked him to throw. Because he has worked mainly in relief this year, the Rays pulled him after five innings (and 66 pitches). But by then, the Rays had a 5-0 lead, and they haven’t surrendered a lot of leads this year.

“Outstanding performance,” said manager Kevin Cash. “He was cruising pretty good, but as far as the pitch count, hopefully we got him enough where he’s built up a little more for next time out.”

Erasmo felt he had shown he can help this team.

“I had to show them I have more than two pitches,’ he said. “Maybe I had to show them I’ve got my cutter. I’ve got my curveball. Don’t be so fastball-changeup.”

While it was a relief to see the pitching cruise again – and Alex Rodriguez’s ninth-inning home run was the Yankees’ first extra base hit since Monday night – it was remarkable to see the way the Rays swung the bat.

Rivera called that, too. He hit a three-run homer in the second inning and later singled in another run. Steven Souza Jr. and James Loney also had two hits.

“It was great to see Rene come up with a big hit in a very odd situation. You don’t see a first-pitch breaking ball from a reliever off an injury go to dead center very often.”

The Rays now travel to Minnesota for three and Atlanta for three before returning home May 21 to play Oakland.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit [email protected]

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