Road trips by the Yankees to the Tampa area often result in an unmistakable home-away-from-home feel anyway, only they didn’t have to travel nearly that far to recreate that experience on Monday night.
The Rays hardly sounded up in arms publicly over MLB’s decision to switch their home pennant-race series to Flushing this week due to Hurricane Irma, but that only allowed the Yanks to continue their playoff march in front of a New York crowd with a 5-1 victory at Citi Field.
“It was different. Right before the game even started, ‘Let’s go, Yankees’ they were chanting,” said Todd Frazier, who belted a three-run homer in the fifth inning. “The lower level was packed, and I would say it was more for our side, which is great.
“But to be honest with you, the lives and impact that storm’s having is basically on everybody’s mind, first.”
The dislodged Rays arrived in Queens on Monday, taking over the Mets’ clubhouse as their temporary home for three games. They rightly were relieved to have heard the extent of damage to their homes and community didn’t turn out to be as disastrous as originally feared after Irma worked its way north through the west side of Florida over the weekend.
“I think a lot of our thoughts are back home … There was not too much damage, so I think all-in-all we escaped what could have been really a catastrophe,” Evan Longoria said in the “home” clubhouse beforehand. “There’s a lot of tension that’s been relieved and a lot of uneasiness that’s kind of settled.
“After three days, I think we’ll be able to go back home and really see what the case is, but it should be nice to go out and play a baseball game without worrying.”
Longoria is borrowing David Wright’s prime locker stall this week, in the front corner immediately to the left of the entranceway. Lucas Duda notably regained his former locker in the back corner of the room, in his unplanned return to Flushing barely six weeks after he was the first of the injury-ravaged Mets’ pending free agents to be purged ahead of the trade deadline.
“It’s definitely kind of odd to be back, especially under the circumstances,” Duda said. “It’s tough to be here; obviously our thoughts are with the people in Florida. But we have a tough series coming up against the Yankees, and we’ll see where we’re at.”
At 71-74, the Rays barely remain on the fringes of the AL playoff picture, now four games behind Minnesota for the second wild-card position.
The Yanks, meanwhile, are equidistantly ahead of the Twins, while closing to within three games again of first-place Boston in the AL East.
Thus, the Bombers were more than willing “visitors” this week after sleeping back in their own beds upon returning from Texas on Sunday night. Especially since Monday’s game began a season-concluding stretch of 17 of their final 20 games that now will be played in either outer borough.
“I think people are probably going to assume that (there’s an advantage), but really it comes down to who plays the best, no matter where you’re at,” Joe Girardi said.
The Mets weren’t expecting much of a crowd for Game 1, which was played on the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and it drew just 15,327. They opened only the field-level section of seats, which were sold for $ 25 a pop – with an MLB spokesman saying a corresponding donation will be made to hurricane relief funds.
Even so, the Rays are averaging only slightly less (an MLB-worst 15,309) in home attendance this season, with Yankee fans often taking over Tropicana Field whenever they play there.
“I don’t know that there’s a neutral site when you’re playing the Yankees,” Longoria said. “They travel well.”
Indeed, the first-inning roll call from the outfield seats let the Rays know right away where they were, not to mention the crowd reaction to every strikeout by CC Sabathia or David Robertson and the lights-out bullpen or to Frazier’s blast in the five-run fifth.
“You wouldn’t draw up a home game in New York against the Yankees in a wild-card chase,” Tampa’s Steven Souza said. “But we’re just thankful to have a place to play right now.”
In April of 1998, remember, a 500-pound concrete and steel beam crashed from the base of the upper deck into the loge level at the old Yankee Stadium, causing the shifting of a game against the Angels to Shea the following day.
Former Mets slugger Darryl Strawberry crushed a home run for the Yanks that day, prompting the temporary rising of the Apple in center field, before someone thought better of it and stopped such a celebration for the transplanted pinstripers.
Perhaps Duda’s local ties will call for some rising mechanical fruit if he clubs one as a member of the home team again this week.
The Mets attempted to provide the Rays other comforts of home, using their walkup music and some of their in-house video production on the scoreboard. But the Rays, who were in Boston as they tracked the storm over the weekend, clearly are looking forward to returning to St. Pete to face the Sox again beginning Friday.
“It’s not the most ideal situation,” pitcher Chris Archer said, “but it’s definitely not the worst.”
It definitely could not have felt like home on Monday night for the Rays.