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Rays' bats struggle on chilly day in loss to Yankees

NEW YORK — It was obvious the conditions weren't favorable for the Rays offense on Sunday at Yankee Stadium. A bone-chilling cold had them pulling on ski masks and extra layers, while the heat coming off the mound — Yankees ace Chien-Ming Wang, who took a no-hitter into the fifth, followed by fireballing relievers Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera — left them shaking their hands, and their heads.

Even their starter, James Shields, knew there wasn't much wiggle room. So when he made one mistake, allowing a two-run homer to Hideki Matsui in the fourth, that was bad enough. And when the Rays wasted the only two scoring chances they'd get — one on a missed sign, the other a bad break — that was it, as the Yankees won 2-0.

"I knew today was a day where you've got to shut them down," Shields said. "It's cold. It's one of those days where you've got to keep them in the game."

Shields didn't do much wrong on a day with a wind chill in the high 30s. He had better command and rhythm than during his opening day victory in Baltimore and, with some help from better-every-day centerfielder B.J. Upton, moved quickly into the fourth.

Alex Rodriguez drove a curveball to right-center for a one-out double, and Shields left a 2-and-1 changeup up to Matsui, who had been moved up to fifth in the order because of his success against Shields, and he knocked it over the rightfield fence.

Matsui, now 6-for-10 with three homers off Shields, said "nothing is really different" from any other pitcher. Shields, who didn't hide his disgust on the field, said: "I made one bad pitch today. I hung my changeup to Matsui. I think if I keep it down, he pops that up."

The physical mistakes — as frustrating as they can be — are going to happen. So are the bad breaks, such as in the seventh, when the Rays rallied and catcher Shawn Riggans battled Chamberlain but lined into an inning-ending double play.

It's the mental errors they have to eliminate. Willy Aybar made a big one when the Rays finally got a runner to third in the fifth, mistaking a safety squeeze — he is supposed to wait for the bunt to be down then break — for a regular squeeze and ran into an out, even easier because Jason Bartlett couldn't do anything with Wang's pitch, a cutter when he was looking for the trademark sinker manager Joe Maddon described as "a bowling ball." "Neither one of us did our jobs," Bartlett said.

Maddon would only describe it as "a missed assignment & on the Rays' part," but it's obviously the kind of mistake the Rays (3-2) are no longer supposed to be making. "That's what you really want to avoid, are the mental mistakes," he said. "Those are the ones that will always beat you. & We've talked about that a lot, to eradicate those is very important."

The Rays got only one more chance, when singles by Cliff Floyd and Eric Hinske chased Wang in the seventh, and with one out, Riggans tried to catch up to Chamberlain, who earlier hit 101 mph on the stadium board, and ripped a liner — right to second baseman Robinson Cano.

"It was bad hitting," Riggans said.

Hardly their biggest problem.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com

Yankees 2

Rays 0

Rays' bats struggle on chilly day in loss to Yankees 04/06/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 5:35pm]
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