Clay Holmes blows late lead, Yankees fall to Cardinals 4-3

ST. LOUIS — What had started as an emotional homecoming Friday afternoon, ended as a disastrous loss for the Yankees. Hours after Matt Carpenter had been welcomed back to Busch Stadium with a standing ovation from the 46,940 fans, Clay Holmes blew a one-run lead in the eighth and the Cardinals rallied for a 4-3 win in the opener of the three-game series between the two iconic franchises.

The Yankees (70-37) have lost three straight games. It was just the fourth time this season they have lost after taking a lead into the eighth inning. The Bombers’ lead over the Astros in the race for the best record in the American League, and the homefield advantage that will come with that in the postseason is down to a half game.

Holmes gave up a one-out, infield single to Nolan Arenado and then walked Tyler O’Neill with two outs. Paul DeJong lined a sinker into right field to drive in two runs.

“That’s kind of baseball some days,” Holmes said of the weak contact he gave up to Nolan Arenado and then giving up a double to the struggling DeJong. “An infield single and then threw some good pitches there to O’Neil and he fouled  pretty good one off there three, two and just kind of got to make a pitch there. DeJong got me really early in the count and kind of made me pay for the walk.”

It was the first time this season Holmes has allowed runs in back to back games, having given up three runs against the Royals on Sunday.  Friday was the fourth lead he has surrendered in his last 10 appearances. Over his last nine appearances, Holmes, who had a 31-inning scoreless streak earlier this season, has allowed nine earned runs.

The Yankees did not give Holmes a lot of room to work. Despite 10 hits, they managed two runs, going 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Josh Donaldson drove in two, going 2-for-4 with a double. Carpenter went 2-for-4 and had a ball nabbed at the right-field wall in his return. Aaron Judge had his major-league leading 36th multi-hit game of the season and Andrew Benintendi had his first extra-base hit as a Yankee.

Still, the Bombers went homerless for the first time in 20 games.

“It’s not easy for us right now,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “It’s kind of close. A lot of good at bats today. A lot of  hits. I thought we hit the ball really well. They made some really good plays. (Lars) Nootbar made a couple of really good plays. Carpenter just misses the ball.  …. I thought a lot of quality at bats up and down but just couldn’t get that one big backbreaker.”

Carpenter came close with his fly ball to right field, Nootbar slammed into the wall to make the catch. The Yankees veteran played 11 years here, he knew it wasn’t going out.

“If you think there’s a chance, it’s usually not,” Carpenter said.

With Judge aboard in the first, Carpenter came to the plate to an extended standing ovation. Then he did what he could not do all too often the last two years he was here; he had a productive at-bat.

Carpenter singled him into scoring position and the Yankees slugger scored on Donaldson’s double off the right-field wall. In the third, Carpenter singled again.

A three-time All-Star and career .263/ .369/.457 hitter who hit 36 homers in 2018, left  St. Louis after two seasons hitting under .200 and with seven homers in 180 games. The Cardinals bought out the option on his contract and Carpenter spent the winter working — at times with old teammate Matt Holiday — and then on a minor league contract with the Rangers to revamp his swing. Carpenter came back to Busch Stadium hitting .322/.435/.791 with a 1.226 OPS and 15 home runs.

Before the game, he got emotional when talking about bringing his kids, who were born here, back to St. Louis this weekend. He caught up with his former teammates and then when he walked to the plate all 46,940 in the park stood and cheered. Carpenter tipped his batting helmet to each section of the ballpark, then tapped his chest twice and pointed to the Cardinals dugout.

“I had a lot of emotions, spent a lot, a lot of time here, had a lot of great memories and played a lot of games in this ballpark,” Carpenter said. “So definitely a special moment.”