NEW YORK — The drama is always spotlighted at Yankee Stadium, and Tuesday the Rays had the chance to play the villains at the end, spoiling the introductory performance of David Robertson as the Yankees successor to injured closer Mariano Rivera.
But, as they did often during the soggy evening, they missed their cue, getting two on with one out then the bases loaded with two down, and instead were left with a frustrating 5-3 loss, their third straight.
"That would have been great," said Carlos Peña, who was called out on questionable strikes to end it. "The stage was set. But the curtain closed before we made it our play."
The Rays (19-11) had other opportunities during the night, rallying from the 3-0 hole ace James Shields uncharacteristically put them in, allowing home runs to Raul Ibanez and Curtis Granderson on balls he thought were pop-ups, but never could quite get even.
Most dramatically in the seventh inning, when third-base coach Tom Foley decided to hold Jeff Keppinger, who would have been the tying run.
A home run by Luke Scott cut the Yankees lead to 3-2 with one out, Keppinger was on first after a walk and Will Rhymes laced a ball down the rightfield line that kicked off the wall and rolled around the corner.
With the field being short and Yankees rightfielder Nick Swisher having a strong arm, Foley made a conservative call to hold Keppinger, who is not known for speed. It looked worse when Swisher overthrew the cutoff man.
Foley, though, said he didn't think Keppinger had a chance to score. "Better to have him at third base with one out than get him thrown out at home plate and have to get a hit," Foley said. "I had to make a decision, and that was the better decision."
But that was predicated on one of the next two hitters getting the run home. Sean Rodriguez had the first shot, but he flied to right, too shallow for Keppinger to score.
"Do you push it? I'm coming up right there so I can't say he made the wrong move. I think I can get him in nine out of 10 times," Rodriguez said. "That's how you win championships, you execute. … We had a couple of opportunities throughout the game where we had runner on third with less than two outs and we couldn't get him across. That's unacceptable."
Next was Jose Molina, with manager Joe Maddon allowing him to hit rather than using Brandon Allen to pinch-hit, as he did in the ninth. Molina, who homered in his previous at-bat off starter Ivan Nova, struck out.
The start of the game was in question due to afternoon showers and a forecast for more, but the Rays got word shortly after 6:30 it would begin on time just after 7, with a sparse crowd, much less than the announced 37,086, braving the elements.
They didn't look very ready. After Ben Zobrist, batting leadoff in place of injured Desmond Jennings, singled to start the game, they made 13 consecutive outs until Keppinger singled with two outs in the fifth.
They had a chance then, too, as Rhymes followed with another single, but Rodriguez, after being ahead 3-and-0, struck out.
They had another shot in the ninth, but Peña didn't have much of a chance with home-plate umpire Jim Joyce's suddenly wide strike zone.
"Robertson made some great pitches; were they strikes?" Peña asked. "Who had the authority to say whether they are strikes or not said they were."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]