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Willy Aybar, filling in for Evan Longoria at third, makes no excuses for critical error in Tampa Bay Rays' loss

NEW YORK — 3B Evan Longoria's left hamstring felt better Sunday, good enough that he said he could have played defense if needed in addition to pinch-hitting, which he did to make the final out.

But the Rays didn't want to use him that way as he nears a return to the lineup, and it cost them as backup Willy Aybar made a crucial error in the Yankees' three-run eighth.

With the bases loaded, one out and the Rays leading 3-2, Jorge Posada hit what looked like a fairly routine double-play grounder to third, with Aybar planning to throw home. But it took something of an odd hop, and instead being out of the inning, the Rays were out of the lead.

"It was a difficult bounce, a short hop," Aybar said nearly an hour after the game ended, with coach Bobby Ramos translating. "I tried to do the best I could. No excuses — I didn't come up with it."

Ramos and manager Joe Maddon made a point to say Aybar didn't cost them the game.

Longoria, who has been limited to two pinch-hit appearances since leaving Tuesday's game with soreness, could return tonight, but it may depend on how he does in a pregame workout.

The Rays have left the decision up to him, and after going through a workout Sunday, he felt better, up to about 85 percent but not comfortable — as much mentally as physically — to be out there.

"If I feel confident I can play up to my potential and play as hard as I want, I'll tell Joe I think I can be in the lineup," he said.

ON THE MATT: RHP Matt Garza wasn't particularly pleased to be pulled after five innings and 96 pitches, but he wasn't that happy with what he was doing on the mound, despite allowing only one run.

Garza said his routine was off with six days between starts (instead of four due to an off day and a rainout), he couldn't get loose and he had trouble locating his fastball.

"Joe knows me better than I know myself," Garza said. "He made the right move. I just felt (badly) because I wanted to go and give more."

PITCHING IN: The Ray had their reasons for altering the rotation. They figure RHP Jeff Niemann, coming off a 100-pitch complete game, could use the extra day's rest of being pushed back to Wednesday, and they all could benefit from having RHP James Shields, who does so much better at home, stay on his regular schedule and pitch twice on the six-game homestand.

The one potential negative is that Niemann will pitch — thus hit — twice on the ensuing interleague road trip. "He's tall, he's big, you never know if he's going to walk into something," Maddon said. "Just so we don't have to see Garza hit twice we're okay."

MINOR MATTERS: LHP Matt Moore threw seven no-hit innings and struck out 12 for Class A Bowling Green on Saturday before being lifted due to pitch count. He has 69 strikeouts in 461/3 innings, and his average of 13.4 Ks per 9 IP leads all minor-leaguers. … Triple-A Durham was held to one hit in six innings Saturday by John Smoltz, who was making a rehab start for Boston's Pawtucket team.

REHAB REPORT: DH Pat Burrell, out since May 11 with a neck strain, is scheduled to start a brief rehab assignment tonight with Double-A Montgomery.

MISCELLANY: CF B.J. Upton extended his hitting streak to a career-high-matching 10 games. … Though the Rays beat Mariano Rivera in their previous two meetings, he converted his 52nd save in 53 chances against them. … Maddon's mom, sister and brother-in-law were among 40 fans who rode a bus two hours from their Hazleton, Pa., hometown to the game, though they got their seats upgraded. … RHP Andy Sonnanstine was pretty proud when he realized that the run he scored Saturday was the first at the new Yankee Stadium by a pitcher. As for tonight's start, he plans to "stay in attack mode."

Willy Aybar, filling in for Evan Longoria at third, makes no excuses for critical error in Tampa Bay Rays' loss 06/07/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 8, 2009 8:22am]
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