Rays take down Yankees in finale, gain series split

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ST. PETERSBURG — Rays infielder Taylor Walls created a mini-stir on social media a few days ago when he proclaimed the Yankees were “very beatable.’’

There was the predictable reaction from New York, of course, including one fan who said, “Who is Taylor Walls?’’

Walls revealed his best self Sunday afternoon in a 4-2 win against the Yankees before a sellout of 25,025 at Tropicana Field. It also gave the Rays (28-19) a split of the four-game series and pulled them within 4½ games of the first-place Yankees (33-15) in the American League East.

“He was pretty spectacular,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

Walls crashed a go-ahead solo home run during the fifth inning, a shot that halted a 1-for-34 skid. More meaningfully, he had a pair of brilliant defensive gems — from all over the diamond.

At third base, he ranged to start a double play and end the Yankees’ sixth. At second, he sprinted and dove to smother what looked to be a sure RBI single to end the eighth and maintain the Rays’ two-run lead.

The Walls-led effort made a winner of Shane McClanahan (5-2), who was in frequent trouble through his six innings but made it work after surrendering only a solo home run to Gleyber Torres.

“What a day that guy (Walls) had,’’ said McClanahan, who struck out seven and walked none. “We’re the Tampa Bay Walls right now. We owe him a lot right now. We all know what he can do. He’s resilient and works his butt off.’’

The Rays made both of their hits count — a pair of solo homers by Ji-Man Choi and Walls — then patched together two runs in the seventh on four walks and a hit batter.

Other than that, it was pitching and defense. The pitching was McClanahan, a perfect seventh by Jason Adam, a grind-it-out eighth by Poche and another scoreless inning from J.P. Feyereisen, who pitched the ninth for his first save of the season and kept his ERA at 0.00.

The defense? It was a Walls-to-Walls effort.

“Taylor is as sure-handed as any guy in the league,’’ catcher Mike Zunino said. “His instincts and anticipation of balls is second to none. He’s just gifted that way. When you make the plays like he made to end innings, then you get to go on the offensive side, it’s a huge momentum shift.’’

The Yankees threatened in the sixth against McClanahan. Torres singled to right, and Miguel Andujar snuck another hit under the glove of shortstop Wander Franco.

But McClanahan got Hicks on a screaming line drive, then Isiah Kiner-Falefa on an around-the-horn double play, which began with Walls ranging far to his left at third and ended with first baseman Yandy Diaz digging out the relay throw from second baseman Vidal Brujan. The Rays maintained a 2-1 advantage.

“I didn’t think Wander (Franco at shortstop) can get there on the backhand, so I knew I had to get there and get rid of it,’’ Walls said.

Walls’ play in the eighth was straight from a highlight reel.

Trailing 4-1, Yankees designed hitter Aaron Judge began the inning with a 420-foot homer off Poche. Torres created more issues when he smacked a one-out single, advanced on a wild pitch, then stole third with two outs.

Then Hicks picked on a 3-2 offering and slammed it up the middle, through the wicket of Poche’s pitching legs. But Walls dove to the shortstop side of the bag to snag the hard bouncer, whirled to his feet and whipped a perfect throw to Diaz at first.

“I wouldn’t say I practice that type of play, but I do practice those types of throws and the throw on the (sixth inning) double play,’’ Walls said. “You try to replicate every rep you (might) get in the game.

“I reacted as soon as it was hit. I saw it pretty clean. It’s huge. If we don’t make those plays, it could be a different ballgame.’’

On paper, Walls hasn’t had a good season. He’s batting .152 and has made seven errors, so Sunday’s performance couldn’t have come at a better time.

“He has been grinding a bit, struggling a bit,’’ Cash said. “But Taylor is a confident guy. He continues to work, and it’s nice to see him get rewarded.’’

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