False start: Rays drop important opener
Tampa Bay loses a game to New York in the standings
ST. PETERSBURG -- Monday wasn't exactly the way the Rays wanted to start things off with the Yankees.
Trailing the first-place Bombers by 6 1/2 games entering the series opener at Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay desperately needed to make up some ground on New York -- even if the calendar did read July 27. But after getting pummeled by the Yankees to the tune of 11-4, first place looked like a distant star. The Rays will now head into Tuesday night's contest at 7 1/2 games back in the American League East race, with just 62 games left in the season.
"It is [a lot of ground to make up], but I think the thing to do is kind of be naïve about the whole situation, just keep thinking what the job at hand is that day, focusing on tomorrow's game now and getting a win tomorrow -- I think that's the biggest thing," Evan Longoria said. "The more you start to look down the road and try to plan for the future, you kind of let things on a day-to-day basis get away from you."
The Yankees have now won 10 of their past 11 and 23 of their past 29 games. Meanwhile, the Rays are hitting just .227 in July, and they have scored more than four runs just once in their past 10 games. Yet manager Joe Maddon stubbornly refuses to admit that his team is in any kind of trouble.
"I was on a team that was down by 11 or 12 in the middle of August [and won the pennant]," Maddon said. "The Yankees are a good team, Boston's a good team. But again, I don't see any real positive purpose in regard to applying more pressure to the day. I just want us to go out there and be ourselves and play our game and keep pushing forward. I think that's the right way to do it. I think when you start trying to apply way too much weight to one or two games and if you don't win, then it can become a huge negative."
When asked if the Yankees had sent a message to the Rays, New York manager Joe Girardi replied: "We worry about winning series, we don't worry about sending messages."
A.J. Burnett served as an adequate messenger for the Yankees on Monday night, when he started and overpowered the Rays en route to earning his 10th win of the season. The veteran right-hander held Tampa Bay scoreless through five innings before he allowed a run to score in the sixth, when Longoria grounded into a double play, plating B.J. Upton. In seven innings, that would be the only run the Rays could muster off Burnett, who gave up just two hits while striking out five.
Meanwhile, the Yankees' bats got frisky early.
James Shields started for Tampa Bay, and New York went into attack mode in the second, when Jorge Posada doubled home Hideki Matusi. One batter later, Posada scored on a Robinson Cano triple, and Nick Swisher grounded out to second to plate Cano, giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead.
In the sixth, the Bombers again jumped on Shields when Cano and Swisher connected for back-to-back homers to put the Yankees up, 5-0. One out later, a Derek Jeter single chased Shields from the ballgame.
"I didn't have my good stuff today," said Shields, who dropped to 1-7 with a 6.00 ERA in nine career starts against the Yankees. "You've got to tip your cap to A.J. He pitched an unbelievable game tonight. ... It's kind of tough when you face a guy who has got his 'A' game on."
Tampa Bay scored twice in the eighth on a Carl Crawford sacrifice fly and a Ben Zobrist RBI single. Then with two outs and two aboard, Carlos Pena came up to the plate, representing a run that would have pulled the Rays to within one of the lead. But reliever David Robertson struck out the Rays slugger.
The Yankees added four more in the ninth inning -- highlighted by Swisher's second home run and a three-run blast by Johnny Damon.
"They're hot right now," Maddon said. "They're swinging the bats good up and down. Swisher homered from both sides of the plate, and he's hitting like .200 against lefties this year. ... The whole group is [on top of its game]. They're swinging the bats well top to bottom, and you can sense they've got a good vibe going on over there, no doubt."
Shields agreed that the Yankees are indeed hot before adding, "But we're here to slow them down.
"We've got [Scott Kazmir] going [on Tuesday], [Matt] Garza going the next day, so I'm feeling pretty confident. We need to try and jump out to an early lead tomorrow and hold them."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.