NEW YORK — Manager Joe Maddon has said that pitching has helped carry the Rays to first place in the first couple of months, when their offense and defense haven't been up to par.
But when all three areas struggle, it can get ugly, as was the case in Tuesday's 7-0 loss to the Yankees in front of 40,537 at Yankee Stadium. The Rays had nearly as many errors (three) as hits (four), and right-hander James Shields allowed a season-high seven runs (five earned) in five innings, his shortest outing since opening day.
As a result, Tampa Bay's loss, its sixth in its past nine, dropped it back into a first-place tie with Baltimore.
"It's definitely frustrating we're not playing to our potential," Shields said. "We've definitely got to minimize the mistakes. On all aspects of the game, not only defense, we've got to do better on offense, got to do a better job pitching.
"Today was not a very good game."
The defense continued its season-long slump and now has six errors in the past three games and 49 for the season, second most in the AL. All three Tuesday came on what Maddon labeled routine plays, ones they normally "make in their sleep, they make it normally 101 out of 100 times."
"It's viral right now — it's a virus and we've got to get rid of it," Maddon said. "Some kind of infield antibiotic we need. We're making mistakes we normally don't make. We have to stop doing that. … I really believe it's going to go away at some point, but for right now it's biting us pretty good."
Shortstop Elliot Johnson's first-inning error led to two Yankee runs. With the bases loaded and two outs, Shields got Raul Ibanez to hit a grounder up the middle into the shift and right at Johnson. Maddon said Johnson threw flat-footed, with the one-hopper getting past first baseman Carlos Peña.
"I did the best I could to pick it for him," Peña said. "But I couldn't, got an in-between hop."
The Rays have allowed 31 unearned runs after having averaged 49 per season from 2008-11.
Maddon said Shields (6-4), who lost his third straight decision, "wasn't as sharp as he normally is," with the biggest blow coming in the fourth. Shields hurt himself with a couple of walks to load the bases, then left an 0-and-2 fastball over the plate, and Russell Martin ripped a grand slam, making it 6-0.
"I was trying to get it a little higher," Shields said. "If I get it a little bit higher, I feel it's a strikeout."
Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte had plenty of those, racking up a season-high 10 in stifling the Rays. Pettitte had one of his best starts since coming out of retirement, hitting his spots and working in his offspeed stuff.
"He was devastating," Peña said. "And he beat us."
Besides left-hander Cesar Ramos' three innings of scoreless relief, there were few bright spots for the Rays (31-24), who continued to beat themselves. Ben Zobrist was charged with two errors, including a grounder that went through him in the fourth.
"We just didn't have a good night; we didn't really play any area of the game well," Maddon said. "I'm really looking for the next 24 hours to come along."