Rapid Reaction: Rays 7, Yankees 2

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Joe Maddon said before the game the Tampa Bay Rays would not hit Alex Rodriguez, and it turned out they didn't have to.

They hit Hiroki Kuroda instead.

In a loss that seemed to undo a lot of the good they accomplished in winning their previous five games, the Yankees dropped further back in the wild-card race after what was arguably Kuroda's worst performance as a Yankee. More alarmingly, it was the second straight bad start for the 38-year-old righty, who had emerged as the Yankees' ace this season.

Now, the Yankees need a big performance out of CC Sabathia on Saturday or risk heading into Sunday's game facing a potentially devastating series sweep by the surging Rays, who have won four of their past five.

Can't spell Hiroki without HR: Kuroda had not allowed a home run since June 30, a span of 58⅓ innings but allowed three tonight, including back-to-back solo HRs by Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce in the third. Then, Ben Zobrist added a solo blast in the fifth to make it 7-1. The four home runs allowed matched Kuroda's career high, accomplished on Sept. 5, 2011, by the Washington Nationals. This was Kuroda's second straight poor outing and his worst since the June 30 game against Baltimore, in which he allowed three HRs.

Career night: The four home runs allowed by Kuroda weren't the only career best he matched tonight. So were the seven runs allowed, which also took place on Sept. 5, 2011, against the Nationals.

Arch enemy: Rays starter Chris Archer handled the Yankees for the third time this season, working seven innings of four-hit, two-run ball. His ERA in three starts against New York this season, including his two-hit shutout in July, is 1.23 (three earned runs over 22 innings).

Stolen run: The Yankees initially jumped ahead on a run basically created by Brett Gardner. The Yankees leadoff hitter walked, stole second (without a throw), went to third on a fly out and scored on Alfonso Soriano's single to right, Sori's 29th RBI since joining the Yankees.

Ring-a-ding! Jose Lobaton rang the pipe down the right-field line off the first pitch he saw from Kuroda in the second inning with two runners aboard to give the Rays a 3-1 lead. That snapped Kuroda's homerless streak at 58⅓ innings.

Double jeopardy: Gardner's speed got him into trouble in the third, when he took off on a 2-2 pitch to Curtis Granderson, who hit a sinking liner to right field that Joyce charged and caught on the run, resulting in an easy double play after the throw behind Gardner, who was all the way to second base when the catch was made.

One-man show: Gardner also created the Yankees' second run of the game by tripling to right to start the sixth inning and scoring on Robinson Cano's groundout to cut the Rays' lead to 7-2. Gardner had a perfect night at the plate -- on base four times with two hits, a walk and a hit-by-pitch, plus his team-leading 22nd stolen base. On the bases, not so much -- in addition to getting doubled off on Granderson's liner, Gardner got picked off first in the eighth inning.

Uncle, Joba: Now that Joba Chamberlain only seems to pitch in games in which the Yankees are hopelessly behind, the two words just seem to go together. Joba came on in relief of Kuroda to start the seventh with the Yankees trailing by five runs.

What's next: The middle child of this three-game series matches Sabathia (11-10, 4.83 ERA) versus LHP David Price (7-5, 3.29), with the first pitch at 7:10 p.m.