With a runner in scoring position and the Yankees desperate for a run in the seventh inning, Brett Gardner took a high called strike.
Immediately after finding out that the pitch was called strike two, Gardner stepped out, turned around and put his hands on hips to question plate umpire Will Little. Manager Joe Girardi circled around in the dugout, started yelling and clapping in Little’s direction.
To say the Yankees were frustrated would be an understatement. The feeling might also be the theme of a mediocre first half that ended with a dispiriting 4-3 loss to the Rays in a game that involved their two best relief pitchers and was eventually decided on a go-ahead single by Logan Forsythe with two outs in the 12th.
Three pitches after Gardner expressed his displeasure, he lined a slider from Chris Archer into an inning-ending double play. Moments later Dellin Betances allowed consecutive two-out walks and closer David Robertson gave up the go-ahead single to catcher Ryan Hanigan.
“Today was one of those days. I couldn't make pitches with two outs,” Betances said.
“I didn't have any trouble getting loose,” Robertson added. “I just didn't have great command today. It was one of those days.”
That was not the only frustration for the Yankees (41-40), who are one game worse than they were last year through 81 games. The only difference is that a majority of their massive payroll was injured last year. They have struggled to get production from free-agent imports Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran this season.
McCann threw out Desmond Jennings stealing twice but also went 1-for-5 as his average remained at .221. The one hit was an eighth-inning single to left field that popped out of Brandon Guyer’s glove and one that might have scored the tying run had Jacoby Ellsbury not briefly stopped at second.
Three pitches later, Beltran fouled out to Hanigan, making the Yankees 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and 2-for-12 with men on base, a mark they’d extend by not being able to score after Brian Roberts hit a game-tying home run with one out in the ninth off Joel Peralta.
“They were able to get the big hit at the end and we’ve had two extremely tough losses so far on this homestand,” Girardi said. “We had a couple of chances and we just weren’t able to do much tonight.”
The loss came hours after Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman offered assessments of the first half that did not sugarcoat the mediocrity.
Cashman said the Yankees were fortunate to be two games out in the AL East and Girardi assessed the first half as being up-and-down.
It was on display Monday as the Yankees went from the highs of hitting a game-tying home run to the lows of not coming through in extra innings.
“We fought, we got a huge home run, we just couldn't get one more big hit,” McCann said. “A loss is always hard to take. We didn't get that big hit late that we needed.”
It’s a lament the Yankees have had all too frequently recently.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.