ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays were feeling really good heading into the eighth inning Wednesday, six outs from a sweep of the first-place Yankees.
Up by two runs, manager Joe Maddon handed the ball to veteran reliever Kyle Farnsworth. Though Farnsworth was making just his second appearance of the season after coming off the disabled list, he saved 25 games a year ago and Maddon said he needs to be — and will be — a key setup man for closer Fernando Rodney.
"That's his moment right there," Maddon said. "And he's going to nail that down."
But Farnsworth faltered, walking four in an inning for the first time in his career to enable the Yankees' three-run rally in a 4-3 loss in front of a Fourth of July crowd of 28,033 at Tropicana Field. It snapped the Rays nine-game home winning streak against the Yankees and left them 6½ games out in the American League East.
"That was pretty bad," Farnsworth said. "It's all on me for not throwing strikes."
Farnsworth, who missed the first half of the season due to a strained right elbow, said he felt fine. But after walking pinch-hitter Eric Chavez and Curtis Granderson on 3-and-2 pitches — with Granderson looking like he swung on his — Farnsworth walked Mark Teixeira on four pitches and Alex Rodriguez to bring in a run.
Lefty Jake McGee entered and gave up a two-run single to Robinson Cano. But Farnsworth, whose four walks were his most since five over two innings on Sept 29, 2000, set it up.
"Some pitches were close. And those kind of guys, they're not going to swing at close pitches," Farnsworth said. "I beat myself by not being aggressive and throwing strikes."
Maddon said with Joel Peralta unavailable, having appeared in three of the previous four games, it was Farnsworth's turn. And even as Farnsworth struggled, Maddon said he was going to stick with him through Rodriguez, believing he could induce a double-play grounder.
"I believe he's one of the best relief pitchers in the American League," Maddon said. "He just needs to get a little bit sharper based on workload. That's it."
It spoiled another stellar start by, arguably, the top starter in the American League. All-Star lefty David Price was in line for his 12th win of the season after holding the Yankees hitless until the fifth. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Price had "no-hit stuff," allowing one run and four hits through seven with his only blemish a Teixeira solo homer.
"As good as I've ever seen him," Teixeira said of Price. "He's got great stuff, and when he locates, he's almost unhittable."
The Rays (43-39) were held hitless, too, by righty David Phelps until Sean Rodriguez's RBI single in the fourth. The biggest blast came from Carlos Peña, whose two-run homer off lefty Boone Logan in the seventh gave the Rays the lead.
Though the Rays couldn't close it out, they believe they gained some momentum from the series win over the Yankees and have plenty of faith in Farnsworth.
Said Peña: "I rest at peace when he's on the mound."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.