NEW YORK — The talk before the game was about October, how this series with the Yankees had some of that kind of buzz and whether the upstart Rays had what it takes to get there for real.
But then the Rays were done in during Tuesday's 5-0 loss by a couple of postseason veterans who've been there and done that, with Andy Pettitte holding them to four hits through eight strong innings and Derek Jeter getting the key hit and making the biggest play.
"They've done it for many years, and they are very good in the moment," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "They've had that kind of experience. And that's why they are Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter."
It was the first time the Rays (55-34) have lost consecutive games since June 10-11 in Anaheim, though they insisted it was not the start of something. And to make their night even worse, the Red Sox rallied for four runs in the eighth and beat the Twins to move within three games of first place.
"I'm not concerned about anything," Maddon said. "It's just they beat us tonight. … Just one game and move it along."
A Yankee Stadium sellout crowd of 53,089 came out on a Tuesday night to see the Rays for the first time since the opening weekend of the season, but they — again — didn't look like the majors' best team.
Scott Kazmir will return to the Bronx next week as an All-Star but wasn't impressive, lasting only five innings for the third consecutive start (and less than six for the fifth straight), throwing 97 pitches. He did strike out nine, including five of the first six, impressing Pettitte enough that he wondered if he'd get 20).
But he had a messy third, allowing a leadoff single to No. 7 hitter Robinson Cano and a double to Jose Molina — admitting there may be some lapses of concentration against the bottom of the order — and, after striking out the next two, giving up a two-run double to Jeter.
Jeter struck again in the seventh, when the Rays threatened with two on and two out, going far to his right to snare Willy Aybar's grounder and making his classic pirouette throw to get the inning-ending forceout at second.
"A big play, possibly game-changing," B.J. Upton said.
The Rays had beaten Pettitte two of three times earlier this season but came out aggressive — "a little bit keyed up," was how Maddon put it — and made him throw only nine, 11 and 11 pitches in the first three innings and as many as 20 in only one inning. Three of their first seven hit the first pitch.
"We made it a little bit easier for him by making some quick outs," Maddon said. "When we play well and we do score our runs, we work a little more patient at-bats, and I don't think we did that."
Upton said it wasn't the stage, just an effort to score early. But Pettitte was very sharp and took advantage, shutting the Rays out for the first time since April 20.
The Yankees' win moved them within 7½ games of first place and left a strong sense among the Rays that they weren't done.
"They're never too far out," Upton said. "They showed what they're about tonight, and that they're going to be around all year. So we just have to try to be a little bit better."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]