Uncharacteristic breakdown by bullpen

One of the major questions facing the Yankees in 2014 was how they would deal with life without Mariano Rivera. Yet even with new closer David Robertson gone to the disabled list with a groin injury, the bullpen has been one of the Yankees’ strengths in the season’s first month.

Until Friday night, however.

Relief was nowhere to be found as the Yankees sustained an 11-5 ripping by the Rays, who stopped a four-game losing streak and ended the Yanks’ five-game winning streak as well.

By game’s end, it was hard to believe that the Yankees were once in command having held leads of 4-0 and 5-3. Until the last two innings, it appeared that Hiroki Kuroda would finally win a road game, which he has not done since July 25 last year at Arlington, Texas.

Kuroda departed with two outs in the sixth as Tampa Bay turned it into a one-run game. Alfonso Soriano’s RBI single in the seventh got the Yanks what seemed an insurance run, but they must not have paid the premium.

The Rays attacked the bullpen for three runs in the bottom of the seventh to take the lead and tacked on five more runs in the eighth as the Yanks’ pen simply exploded. It got so crazy that Cesar Cabral was ejected from the game by plate umpire Joe West after he hit his third batter of the inning. Cabral faced six batters in the eighth, all of whom reached base on three hits and three plunks. In addition to all that, Cabral even threw a wild pitch.

Cabral’s ejection forced Yankees manager Joe Girardi to bring Shawn Kelley, nominally the closer with Robertson on the DL, into the game to get the final out of the inning.

The pen entered the game unscored upon in its previous seven games covering 15 1/3 innings. The relief corps had held hitters to a .188 batting average with six walks and 22 strikeouts over that stretch.

Friday night, however, the Rays whacked Yankees relievers at a .563 clip and battered them for eight runs in 2 1/3 innings. David Phelps was forced to leave the game when he was struck in the stomach by a line drive. Matt Thornton and Adam Warren followed and could not control the Rays before Cabral came in and all hell broke loose.

Amazingly, all 11 of Tampa Bay’s runs were scored after two were out. It was a decided downer for the Yankees, who are catching the Rays at a time of weakness with two of their top pitchers, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb, on the shelf. Career pin cushion Eric Bedard was the seventh different pitcher to start for Tampa Bay already this year, and the Yanks knocked him out of the game by the fourth inning in building that 4-0 lead, which by the end of the long evening seemed part of another game.

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