The Yankees expected Corey Kluber to make big starts and Zack Britton to pitch the eighth inning in a lot of games.
However, in an 8-7 loss to the Angels at Angel Stadium on Monday night, the Yankees saw Kluber implode in the fourth inning and the replacements for Britton give up the go-ahead run in the eighth.
And, with the Rays now the hottest team in baseball, having won eight straight games, the Yankees’ AL East lead has grown to seven games.
DJ LeMahieu said it’s that time of year when players start to pay attention to the standings, but he’s still optimistic about the Yankees’ chances.
“If we take care of business, we’ll be in a really good spot at the end,’’ LeMahieu said. “It’s a good division.”
“Our goal doesn’t change,’’ Gary Sanchez said through an interpreter. “That’s to win the East, no matter what.”
To do so, the Yankees will have to see what they have in Kluber as the season progresses.
The right-hander didn’t allow a hit for the first three innings after returning from a shoulder strain that had kept him out since May, before allowing five runs in the fourth.
The game remained tied until the bottom of the eighth inning, when ex-Met Juan Lagares drove in the go-ahead run with a two-out RBI single off Clay Holmes, and the Yankees couldn’t respond in the ninth, as the Angels used seven pitchers to win.
It was the first time the Yankees had lost three games in a row since June 30-July 4.
Despite three consecutive singles, a lineout to center, and a walk before Jack Mayfield crushed a grand slam, Aaron Boone defended his decision to keep Kluber in the game.
“One mistake really got him,’’ Boone said.
Kluber was encouraged by his feelings, and, like Boone, he only regretted the Mayfield at-bat.
“I made a bad pitch in a big spot,’’ Kluber said. “It’s one pitch wish I could get back.”
The outcome squandered a resurgent Yankee offense that had been shut down for the majority of the previous two games in Oakland.
Brett Gardner was driven in by a single by LeMahieu. Rizzo singled to center field and advanced to second on a Marsh error. Stanton tied the game with a single to center after Judge hit an infield single to make it 5-4.
Joey Gallo, who was struggling, struck out with runners on the corners.
To begin the bottom of the fifth, Andrew Heaney took over for Kluber and promptly gave up a towering blast to Shohei Ohtani, putting the Angels back in front by a run.
In the sixth inning, Lagares drove in another run with a two-out RBI triple.
Stanton continued his onslaught at the plate by hitting a two-run home run into the rocks over the center-field fence, tying the game once more at 457 feet.
Peralta pitched a scoreless seventh inning before allowing Marsh to hit a leadoff single in the eighth. Marsh reached third base on a pair of groundouts before scoring on Lagares’ RBI single off Holmes.
LeMahieu said, “We’re playing really good ball.” “We just came out on the short side of things the last three days.”