NEW YORK — For a long time, it looked as if Saturday's doubleheader was going to be doubly good for the Rays. They won their opener against the Yankees easily, 7-1, and the Red Sox lost theirs to the Jays, and two-thirds of the way through the nightcaps both were doing the same.
But then the Rays got sloppy, and lost 6-5, and the Sox rallied, and won 7-5. And rather than have a four-game cushion in the American League East race, the Rays (88-58) ended the long day exactly as they began it, with a two-game advantage, albeit with two fewer games remaining.
"We put ourselves in position to win two," manager Joe Maddon said, "and then to make those mistakes, which we don't normally make … we kind of beat ourselves.''
The Rays did a lot right in the matinee, with James Shields working eight shutout innings for his career-high 13th win and a less-than-imposing lineup tattering Mike Mussina. Not so much in the nightcap, with three errors, a wild pitch and a balk.
"We made way too many mistakes," Maddon said. "That wasn't our typical game."
The Rays took a 4-3 lead, the product of a good-but-not-great start by Matt Garza and a grand slam by Ben Zobrist, his second in a span of 14 games.
A throwing error by catcher Dioner Navarro had already given the Yankees one early run, and a sloppy seventh inning — including two errors on the tying play — gave them two more.
Zobrist made the big one, fielding what should have been a routine inning-ending double play grounder at short, but he rushed his throw and tossed it past second baseman Akinori Iwamura. Derek Jeter stopped after rounding third, then continued home when rightfielder Gabe Gross made the next error, failing to pick up the ball.
"Just a physical mistake," Zobrist said. "Happens. Happens every once in a while. … Just slipped out of my hand."
Grant Balfour's wild pitch allowed Bobby Abreu to take third, and he scored the go-ahead run on Xavier Nady's single. The Yankees added a run, and the Rays got one back, the game ending with the tying run on base as Justin Ruggiano grounded out against Mariano Rivera.
"Anytime you're up in a game and you blow a lead, you feel like you've lost the opportunity," Zobrist said. "We could have gained maybe another game if (the Red Sox) had lost and we had won. It would have been nice to take both of them today."
Shields, working on an extra day's rest, was dominant, beating the Yankees for the first time in eight career starts.
"I really liked him attacking the zone with his fastball a lot, getting in good counts and making them swing at his pitch," Maddon said. "That's what he did, that's when he's at his best."
Shields, who is 30-18 against all other teams, wanted to get his first win against the Yankees, and to get a win at Yankee Stadium, which is closing after this season.
"It's good to end on a good note," Shields said. "I was executing all my pitches today, my sequences were really good, the way I was approaching each hitter, taking my time out there. … I pitched pretty well today."
Equally relevant was the nearly all right-handed lineup Maddon concocted, starting six (with Carlos Pena the lone lefty) and instructing his two switch-hitters, Zobrist and Fernando Perez, to hit from the right side and to try to hit the ball to rightfield against right-hander Mussina.
Maddon's method was that, for whatever reason, right-handers had been hitting Mussina much better, a .322 average compared to .240 for lefties. And that the Rays hadn't done much against him at all, losing three times already.
Naturally, it worked well, as Perez, Zobrist and Evan Longoria, in his first game since Aug. 7, all had big hits, and Ruggiano (who came into the game 0-for-15, and after a meeting in which he asked Maddon to not lose faith in him) had three, including two doubles.
"This guy (Mussina) has had a tremendous year, he's beat us up, we've looked bad against him, so why continue to do the same thing?" Maddon said. "It's the definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Let's try something different."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.