NEW YORK — There have been times, and certainly most of the weekend, when the Rays look as though they are good enough to play with the division heavyweight Yankees and Red Sox and stay in the race the rest of the season.
But not as they headed out of Yankee Stadium and into the All-Star break Sunday, done in by a series of mistakes that led to a 1-0 loss and left them 49-41 and looking up at both teams from a season-high six games out.
The one that actually cost them the game was an errant pickoff throw to third by All-Star pitcher James Shields in the seventh, allowing Robinson Cano, who would have easily been out, to score the lone run in a complete-game duel with Yankees ace CC Sabathia.
But there were other mistakes that were just as damaging, illustrating the improvement needed if they are to remain contenders.
"If that's going to be the difference in the ball game, we've got to do a better job all around," Shields said. "All around. That whole game I hung in there as best I could right there, and unfortunately we got the loss. A tough loss."
Centerfielder B.J. Upton, whose overall play has improved, led the list. He ran into two outs on the bases; picked off first by Sabathia, then doubled off first when he broke for second on a full-count pitch and made no attempt to get back on a liner to right. Worse, he made a throwing error in advance of Shields' errant toss.
"I wouldn't change anything I did but the bad throw," Upton said.
The Rays continued to struggle offensively, getting five men on base and failing to advance any, including two who had doubled. They tried to make up for it by being aggressive on the bases. But Sean Rodriguez got caught stealing third for the first out of the second. "There were some dumb mistakes," Rodriguez said. "And I made one of them."
The game came down to the sloppy seventh-inning sequence.
Second baseman Cano led off with a single for just the fourth hit off Shields. Designated hitter Jorge Posada followed with a blooper to center that Upton, who earlier made a strong throw to the plate, raced in for to make the grab.
Cano had no chance of getting back but Upton, throwing on the run, fired the ball well over first baseman Casey Kotchman's head and into the Yankees dugout.
"I just overthrew it," Upton said. "If I make a good throw, he's out. I didn't rush it. I just didn't make a good throw."
That advanced Cano to third, and that's where Shields made his mistake.
The pickoff at third is one of the plays the Rays have emphasized this season in their efforts to harness opponents, and with some success, twice when Shields, who leads the majors with 10 pickoffs, was on the mound.
Actually, it worked again, except that Shields threw the ball too high, and a bit behind Rodriguez, playing third in place of Evan Longoria, as he broke to the bag.
"I had him picked him off," Shields said. "I mean, he was walking down toward home plate. All I had to do was lob the ball over there, and I end up air-mailing it. Ninety-nine out of 100 (times), I'm going to make that play. And I'm not going to think twice about it."
Manager Joe Maddon said he had no problem with the play, which was called by Shields with a sign to Rodriguez, because he encourages the Rays to take such chances.
"I'm good with that," he said. "It was there for us."
As is the rest of the season.