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Rays drop opener in Bronx
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07/08/2004 10:44 PM ET 
Rays drop opener in Bronx
Zambrano beaten by Yanks for first time this season

Victor Zambrano and Kris Benson bolster the Mets' pitching staff. (Chad Rachman/AP)
NEW YORK -- Victor Zambrano knows how to beat the Yankees. He had done it all three times he had faced them this season.

But the results were not the same Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. The Devil Rays lost, 7-1, and dropped back to .500 at 42-42.

"I didn't change a thing,'' Zambrano said.

But Derek Jeter drilled a pair of run-scoring singles early on and the Rays simply could not cash in against Yankees starter Jose Contreras.

"We just didn't swing the bat,'' manager Lou Piniella said. "We had the bases loaded a couple of times but didn't score.''

If the Rays had gotten a few more runs earlier in the game, there might have been a different result.

In two of his three victories against the Yankees early in the season, Zambrano gave up four and three runs. But the Rays backed him with eight runs on Opening Day in Japan and nine runs in the Tropicana Field opener a week later.

"We just didn't hit today,'' shortstop Julio Lugo said. "We had our chances.''

Zambrano (9-5) was not consistently sharp. He pitched 6 1/3 innings and gave up five runs on six hits and seven walks. He struck out seven and threw 128 pitches, 71 for strikes.

"He pitched all right,'' Piniella said. "He did a pretty good job of wiggling out of it a couple of times but couldn't wiggle out of it each time.''

The loss ended Zambrano's team-record six-game winning streak.

"He was struggling today but what can you do?'' Piniella said. "If he wins another nine games in the second half, everyone will be ecstatic.''

Zambrano had not lost a game since Cleveland beat him on May 15. In each start since then, his command appeared to improve and he made good pitches in key spots. He did that at times on Thursday night, but he also looked like the pitcher who led the American League in walks, hit batters and wild pitches last season.

   Toby Hall  /   C
Born: 10/21/75
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 240 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

"He threw a lot of pitches,'' catcher Toby Hall said. "We saw both of the Victors tonight. There were some innings where his command was good and some where he was off.''

Jeter had been 4-for-25 lifetime against Zambrano. But Jeter had RBI doubles in the second and fourth innings.

"We tried to pitch [Jeter] inside but he used that patented inside-out swing,'' Hall said. "We tried to pound him inside but he won.''

Zambrano said there was not much he could do.

"Jeter had a good night, he's a good hitter,'' Zambrano said.

Yankees manager Joe Torre was happy to see the tables turn.

"Jeter had a couple of big hits, which isn't easy," Torre said. "Zambrano has had his way with us."

Piniella summed Zambrano's night up as well as anyone.

"We've seen him pitch some good ones, we've seen him pitch like this and we've seen him pitch worse than this,'' Piniella said.

After winning two of the first three games against the Yankees this season, the Rays have fallen behind 6-3 in the season series. The Yankees have a 36-11 overall lead in games in New York.

"We can't expect to win all of them,'' Lugo said. "Sometimes you are going to win. Sometimes you don't.''

The Rays' run came in the fourth inning when Rocco Baldelli singled, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a ground out by Tino Martinez.

"We didn't play very good today,'' Martinez said. "Hopefully, we can win two of the next three, if not three. We've got to come back, as we have in the past, and have a good game tomorrow.''

Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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