07/08/08 11:11 PM ET
Rays blanked by Yankees in opener
Kazmir strikes out nine over five, but bats silenced by Pettitte
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
Long-time Tampa Bay nemesis Andy Pettitte brought out his vintage stuff to lead the Yankees to a 5-0 win over the Rays in front a crowd of 53,089 at Yankee Stadium.
The Rays have led a charmed life lately, looking invincible while running off a 7-0 week until losing to Kansas City on Monday afternoon. After losing to the Yankees in the first game of a two-game series Tuesday night, Tampa Bay has suddenly dropped two in a row. And to make matters worse, the Rays lost at a place where they are going to need to win in the coming months if they want to make a run at the playoffs.
They seemed to take the loss in stride, though.
"You're not going to win them all," B.J. Upton said. "A loss is a loss. You definitely don't like it when it happens, but you just have to bounce back from it."
Carl Crawford said it doesn't matter who they lose to when they lose.
"We don't really make a big deal about who we lose to," Crawford said. "If it's a loss, we just try to forget about it and move on to the next day."
And this holds true even if the loss comes at the hands of the Yankees, who have seemingly been fighting to stay in contention during the early part of the season. Crawford said looks can be deceiving where New York is concerned.
"We know they're a good team," Crawford said. "Everybody knows that, everybody [just] likes to get excited when they get down. We know that they're a good team, and they can make a run any time."
Good news for the Rays comes in the fact they are currently playing with found money, holding the best record in baseball at 55-34 and still having a firm grip on first place in the American League East with a three-game lead over the second-place Red Sox.
However, there are several unsettling elements for Rays fans to agonize over, such as the sudden slumber of the bats, and even more worrisome, Scott Kazmir's inability to get deep into the game.
Kazmir (7-4) showed flashes of electric stuff on Tuesday, allowing just five hits while striking out nine, but he used up far too many pitches too quickly, throwing 97 through five innings before manager Joe Maddon gave him the early hook.
"It kind of felt like I can take a little bit away from what I did here today -- my tempo was a little bit better than what it was in the past," Kazmir said. "I've just got to shorten up my innings. It feels like I'm going 3-2 with everyone. I've got to get the quick out."
Despite the short outing, Maddon couldn't find fault with his ace.
"Of course we would like him to go more than five," Maddon said. "I thought he had a better slider, his fastball command was better. He gets a lot of foul balls. It's not like he was all over the place."
Kazmir's only blemish came in the third inning, when Derek Jeter's two-out double pushed home Robinson Cano and Jose Molina to stake the Yankees to a 2-0 lead.
"I just left up a changeup," Kazmir said. "I kind of wanted to see if I could get it low, and if not, in the dirt, and maybe make him chase it and it kind of just hung up there."
Kazmir was sparred further damage in the third by the Rays' fielding gem of the night. Upton fielded Bobby Abreu's single cleanly in center then unleashed a strike to catcher Dioner Navarro, who tagged out Jeter for the final out of the inning.
The Rays' biggest threat against Pettitte came in the seventh, when they had runners on the corners with two outs and Willy Aybar hitting. Aybar laced a grounder between short and third, which looked like it would go for an infield single to drive in the Tampa Bay's first run. But Jeter backhanded the ball and fired a snap throw to second base to force out the sliding Navarro.
"That was a big play," Upton said. "That was a game-changer. ... You don't want to say it took the air out of us, but runs were definitely hard to come by tonight, and that would have been a big run."
Pettitte (10-6) held the Rays scoreless on four hits while walking none and striking out five in eight innings.
"He's been around for a while, so he knows what he's doing out there," Upton said.
The Yankees (48-42) put the game out of reach in the eighth, when they roughed up reliever Gary Glover. Melky Cabrera hit his eighth home run of the season to lead off the inning before Jeter singled and scored on Abreu's double. Cano's RBI single off Jason Hammel equaled the final margin.
Maddon smiled after the game when asked what he planned to tell his team about Tuesday's game.
"You can't denigrate your team because of one night," Maddon said. "Pitching like we saw today will make any team look bad. I thought before the game that we were ready to play."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.