Relieved Rays return focus to the field

Relieved Rays return focus to the field

NEW YORK -- For the past four or five days, the Rays' minds have been focused on the powerful hurricane making its way toward Central Florida.

On Monday, for the first time in what felt like forever, Tampa Bay's players, coaches and staff turned their attention back to baseball, hosting the Yankees in the first of three games at the Mets' Citi Field.

"It's not the most ideal situation, but it's definitely not the worst," pitcher Chris Archer said before the Rays' 5-1 loss to the Yankees. "There's a lot of other places that could have been a lot worse."

A crowd of 15,327 filled the lower deck, and although the Rays were officially the home team, the Yankees had the backing of the hometown fans.

"Kind of what we expected it to be, quite honest," said Jake Odorizzi, who allowed five runs (one earned) over 3 2/3 innings. "We're in the backyard of the Yankees, and they draw well at the Trop, so obviously they're going to draw well in New York. We're the visiting team; us being labeled as the home team wasn't going to change anything from Yankee Stadium to here."

Despite the pro-Yankees crowd, Rays manager Kevin Cash was appreciative that so many fans showed up to watch the game, which had been slated to be played in St. Petersburg before the hurricane moved it north.

"I was impressed with the amount of fans that were here," Cash said. "That's impressive. Passionate baseball fans up here -- Mets or Yankees."

Cash on Odorizzi's 4th inning

To a man, the Rays expressed relief that Tampa-St. Petersburg wasn't hit as hard as expected by Hurricane Irma, which was downgraded to a Category 2 storm by the time it reached the area. The Rays families not with the team are all safe and sound, and although there was flooding in some cases, they were grateful that Irma didn't cause the damage they had been fearing.

"The best news was that even though the hurricane affected a lot of things in Florida, I think the Bay area was fairly fortunate with what could have happened," Cash said. "I say that carefully, because there were a lot of people that were affected. You look at Naples, Miami, Key West, all the Caribbean, there's a lot of people that are going through what I couldn't even imagine right now."

Like Astros players two weeks ago in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the Rays downplayed the oddity of playing home games in a road ballpark. They are now four games out of an American League Wild Card spot, and although they have to "host" the Yankees not far from Yankee Stadium, the Rays aren't sweating the small stuff.

"This was way bigger than the game of baseball," outfielder Steven Souza Jr. said. "I think everybody in here realized that really quick. When families and lives are at stake, it's a little more important than winning a ballgame. We were thinking about Tampa, our prayers were with Tampa, and when we go home, we'll still be thinking about them and doing everything we can to help that community."

Asked about his expectations for the crowd at Citi Field, third baseman Evan Longoria joked before the game that location doesn't matter when the Yankees are on the other side of the field.

"I don't know if there is a neutral site when you're playing the Yankees," a smiling Longoria said. "They travel well."

What Longoria and his teammates do know is that for the first time in days, the Weather Channel wasn't the center of attention in the clubhouse.

"There is a lot of tension that has been relieved and a lot of uneasiness that has kind of settled," Longoria said. "After three days, we'll be able to go back home and really see what the case is. It should be nice to go out there and play a baseball game without that worry on your mind."

Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.