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Tampa Bay Rays lose 8-3 to New York Yankees, fall farther back in AL East

NEW YORK

The Rays are trying to keep things in perspective.

While it looked like James Shields gave them a horrid start by allowing five runs in the first inning, they raved about the way he recovered and pitched into the sixth.

And while the offense was again inefficient and unproductive, they touted the way they battled their way back and consider it a sign of things to come.

And while they lost for a second straight night to the Yankees, 8-3 on Tuesday, they insisted falling 2½ games off the American League East lead with 12 remaining wasn't that big of a deal.

"We lost two tough games; they're going to play us tough at home," Carl Crawford said. "We've just got to find a way to get one while we're here, hopefully win two.

"I don't think it's the end of everything."

No, but it's making it easier to get there.

The Rays continued their September stumble (8-10 so far, with six losses in their past nine games), dropping to 89-61. It's the farthest off the lead they have been in two weeks. (And they haven't been more than that since late July.)

They also lost their advantage in a potential tiebreaker with the Yankees for the division title as the season series is now tied 8-8, with two games remaining.

"You still have a lot of games, and you still have to play good baseball," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Obviously it's better to have a 2½-game lead than to have no lead at all or to be behind. Your destiny is in front of you."

About the only good news was the Red Sox lost again, meaning the Rays maintained a 6½-game lead in the AL wild-card race.

"We've got to finish strong," said Shields, who lost his career-high 13th. "This is disappointing; there's no doubt. We've got to keep going. There's nothing else I can really say. We've got to play with our hearts and our guts and go back to old-school baseball where nothing else matters but winning."

Shields was a big part of the problem, allowing five runs in a 42-pitch, nine-batter debacle of a first inning, with most of the damage coming after two were out.

He said he made "only two or three bad pitches" and with some better fortune could have escaped with only one run had Alex Rodriguez's ground ball to shortstop been a double play rather than an infield hit.

The problem was what happened before — a one-out homer by Nick Swisher — and after. Rodriguez's single put men on first and third, and after an out by Robinson Cano, Shields allowed three consecutive run scoring hits.

First, he fell behind Jorge Posada 3-and-0 and allowed a single. Then it was a two-run double to Lance Berkman. Next was another RBI single, this one to Curtis Granderson to make it 5-0.

"When you let up five runs in the first inning, that's definitely not doing my job," Shields said. "It hurts. It hurts a lot. Coming in I knew this was a big series, so it definitely hurts."

Manager Joe Maddon seized on Shields' ability to rebound — allowing only two more hits while pitching into the sixth — and credited him for getting the whole team, which Maddon admitted seemed "a little bit punch drunk" after the first, back in the game.

"I really liked Shields (Tuesday night)," Maddon said.

The Rays got back to 5-3, scoring in the second (on a Matt Joyce home run), in the third (on an Evan Longoria single) and in the seventh (on a Crawford single, giving him a career-high 82 RBIs).

But the bullpen couldn't keep it there.

Chad Qualls allowed singles to Swisher and Rodriguez, putting runners on first and third. Then Maddon successfully got Randy Choate to the mound — unlike Monday, when some "miscommunication" resulted in Grant Balfour coming in instead, then giving up a three-run homer — and that didn't work out too well, either.

The hit Choate allowed to Cano wasn't much, a bit of a blooper to shallow left. But Crawford's running dive wasn't in time, and the ball bounced by him, allowing two runs to score — though there was some question if he would have nabbed Rodriguez at the plate if Carlos Peña hadn't cut off the throw.

Maddon considered their fight another good sign.

"I know good things are right around the corner for us," he said.

Tampa Bay Rays lose 8-3 to New York Yankees, fall farther back in AL East 09/21/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 8:09am]

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