ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Yankees clung to a two-run lead against their division rival, the Tampa Bay Rays, in the top of the ninth inning here on Sunday afternoon when rookie infielder Thairo Estrada stepped to the plate. Around 45 minutes later, Estrada smashed a solo home run that began a four-run scoring outburst.
Estrada’s at-bat against Rays reliever Austin Pruitt lasted just three pitches, but it was extended to an extreme degree thanks to a 43-minute delay between the first and second pitches.
Such is life at Tropicana Field. Other stadiums may contend with rain delays. But at the domed 30-year-old Tropicana Field, considered among the worst — if not the worst — parks in the major leagues, they have delays of their own kind — this time it was a power failure that took some time for the operations staff to correct.
Despite the unusual delay, the Yankees went on to topple the Rays, 7-1, taking two of three games in the series. An already depleted Yankees lineup was missing a few extra bats in the game, and the leftover players struck out 12 times against Blake Snell, the 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner. But the short-handed Yankees, like they have so many times this season, still won.
“More guys continue to step up,” said Yankees Manager Aaron Boone, after his team moved within a half-game of the Rays atop the A.L. East standings. “I’m really proud of that effort. It’s not easy for us right now. We have to grind and scratch for everything.”
Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees starting pitcher, delivered his best start in weeks. His trademark splitter, one of the biggest culprits for his uneven pitching this season, was much improved on Sunday. He threw it for strikes and used it to get three of his seven strikeouts.
While Snell racked up the strikeouts — he fanned seven of the first nine Yankees — Tanaka, who improved to 3-3, kept the Rays’ lineup more off-balance. He allowed just one run over seven innings, while Snell surrendered two over five and two-thirds innings.
“He’s one of the best pitchers in the league right now,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “So obviously you want to match him and I felt like I was able to do a pretty good job of that.”
Tanaka’s efforts were aided in the fifth inning when Austin Romine doubled off Snell, Mike Tauchman narrowly missed a two-run home run but settled for a run-scoring double, and D.J. LeMahieu made it 2-0 with a single.
The Yankees, already with 12 players on the injured list, stayed strong without the help of catcher Gary Sanchez and shortstop Gleyber Torres, two right-handed hitters who could have been useful against left-handed Snell.
Although Sanchez reported feeling well and passed a concussion test on Saturday, he was given the day off after being hit on the catcher’s helmet by a backswing. Torres was hit on the right elbow by a pitch in Friday’s game and played on Saturday but was given Sunday off when his throws in the previous game appeared a tad affected by lingering soreness.
Help has been trickling back. Outfielder Aaron Hicks, who has been out since March 1 with a back injury, was slated to return on Monday. And veteran relief pitcher Chad Green, who spent about three weeks in the minor leagues fixing his mechanics, returned on Sunday and struck out the side in the ninth inning.
Even without Sanchez and Torres, the Yankees extended their lead to 3-1 in the eighth inning when first baseman Luke Voit scored on a wild pitch by Ryne Stanek. After Yankees relief pitcher Zack Britton pitched out of a jam in the bottom of the eighth inning, Estrada led off the top of the ninth.
Estrada fouled off a slider from Pruitt and then much of the stadium lighting went out. It wasn’t completely dark because the scoreboard and other signage were still illuminated.
This led to an unusual scene throughout the stadium as officials worked to restore power. At one point, many fans turned on their phone lights. They later sang along to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” and Kanye West’s “All Of The Lights” that played over the stadium speakers.
Yankees relief pitchers sat cross-legged on the ground in the bullpen. Some even laid down. Aroldis Chapman, who had been warming in the top of the ninth, stretched his legs. “We were a little bored,” he said.
“I wish I could say that was my first time experiencing that delay here, but it’s happened before,” added Britton, who was on the Baltimore Orioles in 2014 when play was suspended for 19 minutes because lightning struck a transformer that carried power into Tropicana Field.
There are other instances, too. Plagued by low attendance and an old stadium, the Rays have been searching for a new home for years.
After the game, the Rays issued a statement apologizing for the delay. The team said the power outage stemmed from “a failure of a main switch into the building” and officials rerouted the electrical feed temporarily so the game could resume.
Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner said the last power outage during a game he could remember was when he played high school football nearly two decades ago. Boone said the team simply waited and waited, talking about baseball and telling funny stories in the meantime.
The lights flickered on about 20 minutes into the delay then back off. Finally, after nearly 40 minutes, the power came back on for good. Players were soon back on the field and Estrada, who hit in the batting cage while waiting, quickly supplied more power.
“I’ve never waited that long,” he said. “But it’s part of the game and things that can happen. You just have to be ready mentally. And thankfully, I was positive and concentrating.”