Rays lose to Yanks at Citi Field, their home away from home

Tampa Bay Rays players warm up at Citi Field before a baseball game against the New York Yankees Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, in New York. The Yankees will be the visiting team for the series moved from St. Petersburg, Florida, because of Hurricane Irma. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NEW YORK (AP) Evan Longoria was in David Wright’s lockers just inside the entrance to the Mets clubhouse, where the Giants and Virginia Tech football helmets had been removed along with the rest of New York’s gear.

Lucas Duda, traded from the Mets to the Rays in July, was in his old corner stall at the far end, near the showers.

Because of Hurricane Irma, Citi Field became Tampa Bay’s home-away-from-home for a three-game series against the Yankees that began with the Rays losing 5-1 Monday night.

”You wouldn’t draw up a home game in New York against the Yankees in a wild-card chase,” Rays outfielder Steven Souza Jr. said. ”We’re just thankful to have a place to play.”

Rays players were relieved the storm did not cause greater damage in the Tampa area, and manager Kevin Cash was optimistic the team would return to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, for a three-game series against Boston that starts Friday.

”From what I’ve heard, the Trop had some minor damages,” Cash said.

Before the storm passed through the Tampa Bay area Sunday, players worried whether they would play at Tropicana Field any more this year.

”It’s not a solid roof and nobody’s ever seen a hurricane category four or five in the Tampa area,” Souza said. ”So we were just brainstorming on what could possibly happen, if our cars were going to make it, anything – houses were going to be in the ocean. When those kind of situations happen, just crazy thoughts start running through your head.”

Needing wins in a wild-card race, the Rays stumbled. Todd Frazier capitalized on third baseman Trevor Plouffe’s two-out error with a three-run homer in a five-run fourth inning off Jake Odorizzi. Just one of the five runs was earned.

Major League Baseball moved the series to Queens because of the availability of hotel rooms in New York. The Rays wore home white uniforms, hit last, used the Mets clubhouse and were introduced to their regular walkup music.

Only the lower deck was open, ticket prices were capped at $25 and a pro-Yankees crowd of 15,327 booed the Rays when they ran onto the field for the first pitch.

”Just the fact of getting booed as soon as I stepped out to go on the field – that’s a weird kind of a thing,” Odorizzi said.

Tampa Bay dropped four games behind Minnesota for the second AL wild card with 17 remaining and has five other teams to overcome.

During a weekend series at Fenway Park, players tried to focus but kept checking on the situation back home. When the storm tacked inland and was downgraded to category two, they felt relieved.

”We watched The Weather Channel non-stop. I’m tired of watching hurricane watch on TV. It’s like `Anchorman,’ watching the panda for months and months,” Longoria said. ”I was getting videos, actually actual newscast videos from my neighborhood in St. Petersburg, which is not a good sign. … I live right on the water, so I was really expecting to come home to a flooded house, and so we got lucky. I had a boat out back that survived. Nothing fell on the house.”

Originally scheduled to fly to Boston after finishing a homestand Wednesday, the Rays pushed back their departure until Thursday afternoon, arranged a larger plane for their charter flight and told players they could bring along family members. About half did.

Staff brought along the Rays’ white home uniforms.

”We were planning to be prepared, assuming that there was probably a good chance we weren’t going to be playing at the Trop,” Cash said.

Tampa Bay took batting practice first as the home team and hit last in the game. Part of the Mets’ clubhouse staff was not available, so the Yankees lent the Mets four clubbies for the Rays clubhouse.

Even though it was not home, Longoria took solace that it was a spacious clubhouse in an 8-year-old ballpark.

”It’s a far cry from the Boston visiting clubhouse when we have 40 guys in September and not enough space for 20,” he said. ”We’ve got plenty of room in here.”

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