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Tampa Bay Rays lose opener of key series against New York Yankees 5-0

NEW YORK — There was plenty the Rays looked to have lost in an uninspired 5-0 defeat to the Yankees on Tuesday: the momentum from their big weekend in Boston, their offensive spark and whatever confidence they'd built in starter Wade Davis.

But by the end of the night, the most important thing was what they didn't lose any ground in the wild-card race, as the Red Sox blew a lead and were beaten, again, by the last-place Orioles.

When the Rays show up at Yankee Stadium this morning for their long day and night of baseball, they are still two games behind Boston, though with one less day on the schedule and the Red Sox's "magic" number — of Boston wins or Tampa Bay losses — to clinch reduced to seven.

"Of course, it's a lost opportunity," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "But then again, it's no so bad."

The possibility of gaining ground will be a challenge today, if for no other reason than the improbability of winning two games. In 18 previous doubleheaders, the Rays have swept only two and are 0-4-2 in New York. (The Yankees, meanwhile, need one win today to clinch a playoff, and two plus a Boston loss to clinch the American League East.)

There's also a bit of gamesmanship going on, as the Yankees said they wouldn't know their pitching plans until this morning when they checked on Phil Hughes' back spasms and that it could impact which game CC Sabathia pitched. The Rays responded by saying they might shuffle their plans to have James Shields start the matinee and Jeremy Hellickson the nightcap.

"Obviously we would've liked to gain a game but it didn't happen," centerfielder B.J, Upton said. "We can't dwell on it. It's done with. But the good thing is we didn't lose any ground either. We have to regroup and get ready to try to win a ballgame. We'll deal with the first one, then we'll move on to the second one."

Davis, so dominating in the Sept. 9 win over Boston that launched the Rays' playoff push, didn't give them much chance Tuesday. He struggled through a 29-pitch first inning that featured two walks, then gave up four runs in a brutal 21-pitch second as the Yankees opened with four straight hits.

"It's extremely disappointing," Davis said. "I wanted to come out today and have a good outing and give our team a chance to win. … It's frustrating."

Maddon said it was obvious early Davis was "uncomfortable" and didn't have command of his pitches, and he really couldn't explain it beyond that.

After throwing 50 pitches in the first two innings, Davis didn't survive the fifth. Cesar Ramos relieved and gave up a run on an infield single but formed an unlikely trio with Dane De La Rosa and Andy Sonnanstine to shut the Yankees out after that. Not that it was pretty, as the 18 Yankees left on base were the most for an opponent in any of the Rays' 2,256 games.

The Rays — playing without Ben Zobrist, as they will again in the first game today — couldn't do much to get out of the hole Davis put them in against rookie starter Ivan Nova.

They hit three balls hard in the first that were caught, then another in the second, a Matt Joyce rocket that first baseman Mark Teixeira snared then tagged Casey Kotchman for an inning-ending double play. They had two on in the sixth when Joyce struck out, then loaded the bases to open the seventh but Desmond Jennings flied out and Upton hit into a double play.

"Every game we lose is a missed opportunity," veteran DH Johnny Damon said. "Fortunately, Baltimore took care of Boston for us and we are still only two out. But we definitely can't win games if we don't score runs."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays lose opener of key series against New York Yankees 5-0 09/21/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 11:46am]
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