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Yankees rally falls short in loss to Rays as wild-card lead shrinks

Should the Yankees handle the next two items on their to-do list, securing entry to the American League Wild Card Game and then winning that contest, their reward will be a best-of-five showdown against the Rays in the American League Division Series.

Friday’s effort served as a reminder of how challenging that will be. Held to Giancarlo Stanton’s first-inning RBI single through eight frames, the Yankees’ ninth-inning rally fell short as they opened the final homestand of the regular season with a 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees’ lead for the first Wild Card spot was cut to one game over the Red Sox, who won at Washington. The Blue Jays also won, defeating the Orioles, and they are one game behind the Red Sox with two regular season games remaining. The Mariners, who are playing the Angels on the West Coast, are a half-game behind Boston.

Nestor Cortes started for the Yankees, limiting Tampa Bay to two runs and five hits over 4 2/3 innings. Nelson Cruz slugged a first-inning homer, his 32nd, and Kevin Kiermaier stroked a second-inning RBI single off Cortes. The left-hander walked none and struck out five.

Rays starter Shane McClanahan tossed three innings, touched in the first by Gleyber Torres’ leadoff double — a 111.6 mph bullet that marked the hardest-hit ball of the infielder’s career. Stanton continued his sizzling stretch by knocking Torres home, but the Yanks were held to three singles until the ninth.