October 8, 2020 | 2:06am
As the Rays continue to hit home runs like they’re the Bronx Bombers, the Yankees had plenty of chances in Wednesday’s 8-4 loss in Game 3 of the ALDS.
But with some poor clutch hitting — and another shaky performance from a home plate umpire — the Yankees failed to knock out the Rays when they had the chance and now they head into Thursday’s Game 4 facing elimination.
They loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the third — the Yankees were the home team Wednesday and will be again Thursday — but scored just once.
Aaron Judge could muster just a sacrifice fly to right to score Brett Gardner to tie the game at 1-1. After Aaron Hicks walked to load the bases again, the Yankees caught at least one tough break, as a night after home plate umpire CB Bucknor butchered the strike zone, Mark Carlson made his own unenviable impact behind the plate in Game 3.
After Rays starter Charlie Morton loaded the bases — with the help of a pair of walks — the right-hander fell behind Luke Voit 3-0 following a visit from Tampa Bay pitching coach Kyle Snyder.
Morton then threw a ball that appeared to be low that should have been ball four and a run-scoring walk to give the Yankees a lead, but Carlson, the crew chief, called it a strike. Morton’s next pitch looked outside, but Carlson gave him the call again to make it a full count.
Voit then grounded to short to end the threat with the game still tied.
“We had a great opportunity there,’’ Aaron Boone said. “Morton, the first two innings, kind of cruised and then we got to him a little and created some traffic. He made some pitches when he had to.”
Though Voit didn’t come through, Boone is confident the first baseman isn’t far off, pointing to that patient at-bat versus Morton and then just getting under a pitch with Hicks on second base against Morton in the fifth.
“He just missed that breaking ball,’’ Boone said. “I feel like Luke’s not far off at all.”
The Yankees also caught a tough break an inning later.
In the top of the fourth, with Willy Adames at the plate and Joey Wendle on the run from first on a 3-2 pitch, Masahiro Tanaka threw one near the bottom of the strike zone. Kyle Higashioka’s throw to second was in time to get Wendle, but Carlson called the pitch a ball, so Adames walked. Kevin Kiermaier followed with a go-ahead three-run homer.
“I thought it was borderline, the pitch,” Higashioka said. “It was definitely a turning point in the game.”
Boone called it “a real close pitch,” but Higashioka noted the Yankees shouldn’t have let that call lead to more damage.