ST. PETERSBURG — James Shields missed on a few pitches Tuesday, specifically the two Alex Rodriguez deposited over the outfield fence. But it was the opportunities missed by his Rays teammates at the plate that were just as relevant a reason for their 6-2 loss to the Yankees.
"We had baserunners out there, we just couldn't get a knock," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Today was just an inability to get the big hit when we needed it."
The Yankees got what they needed most of all, which was a victory after six consecutive losses and a weekend of controversy.
"We needed to win this game," manager Joe Giradi said. "This was, I don't want to say a must win, but as close as you can get to a must win in the month of May."
Packing a 24-18 record and a two-game AL East lead, the Rays headed out afterward for a challenging and taxing trip to Toronto, Florida and Detroit — and they couldn't be happier to be going.
The loss, before a crowd of 27,123, dropped them to 11-13 at the previously friendly confines of Tropicana Field (compared to 13-5 on the road) and marked the 15th time in those 24 games they scored three runs or fewer under the tilted roof.
"It's kind of weird," Shields said. "Over the last few years we had that so-called homefield advantage, and now it's almost like we have road-field advantage. … We've definitely got to get better at home, no doubt about it."
The Rays, who ended up 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and leaving 10 on, had several chances. But the big moment came in the sixth.
Down 2-1 after Elliot Johnson hit a homer (pulling even in his heated competition with Sam Fuld at 2-2) and Rodriguez hit his two (on a 2-and-2 changeup in the fourth and a 1-and-0 fastball with two outs in the sixth), the Rays had a prime opportunity to take control of the game: bases loaded, one out, with B.J. Upton and Casey Kotchman coming up against reliever Dave Robertson.
Both went down without even putting the ball in play, Upton swinging, Kotchman looking.
"We had an opportunity there to get on top and then stay on top," Maddon said. "That was pretty much the turning point."
Especially because of the way things turned in the Yanks' favor after that, a double by Jorge Posada (who batted seventh in the New York lineup), a bunt, a broken-bat single and an ill-advised and errant throw by Ben Zobrist leading to two more runs.
The Yanks added two in the ninth, and the Rays one, though they thought they may have had another on a Kelly Shoppach fly ball that may have hit the catwalk.
Maddon thought, by the way it changed direction before being caught, it hit the C-ring. Crew chief Gary Darling, after a four-plus minute video review, said "it didn't hit anything." Replays indicated it may have hit the B-ring, thus was in play and out anyway.
In any event …
"We lost the game of inches tonight," Maddon said.
Shields ended up with his first loss since the opening series of the season rather than his fifth straight win, but the margin wasn't much. He went seven innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on eight hits, walking one, striking out nine and throwing 102 pitches.
"I made two bad pitches," Shields said. "That's the way I feel, and that's about it. I think overall with that kind of lineup, I did pretty well."
But on this night, his teammates couldn't say the same.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.