Rapid Reaction: Rays 4, Yankees 2

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Yankees come to Tropicana Field. CC Sabathia faces David Price.

Yankees lose at Tropicana Field. Sabathia loses to Price.

How predictable.

On a night when the Yankees desperately needed an ace-like performance from Sabathia, they got five innings of excellence and one of catastrophic failure, which was just enough to insure that the above scenario, which plays out on an annual basis here, played out again tonight.

More importantly, with their 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays tonight, the Yankees slip to seven games back in the AL wild-card race (4½ out of the second wild-card spot), another game comes off the rapidly dwindling schedule, and they now sit perilously close to being swept in a series they desperately needed to win.

CC = Close (but no) Cigar: Sabathia turned in one of his better lines of the season, allowing six hits and three runs in 6⅓ innings and striking out seven. But, once again, Sabathia was unable to hold a lead and incapable of delivering a shutdown inning. The Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the fifth, but Sabathia gave it back, with interest, an inning later. Sabathia is now 4-12 against the Rays since becoming a Yankee, 3-8 at the Trop and 1-6 in head-to-head matchups with Price.

Early speed: Sabathia showed some of his highest gun readings of the season, hitting 95 mph on a third strike to Sean Rodriguez in the second inning. Through the first three innings, the Rays managed just two baserunners -- a double by Evan Longoria that shot past Alex Rodriguez and up the line in left in the first and a two-out walk to Desmond Jennings in the third. In fact, Sabathia did not allow a ball to be hit to the outfield until Sam Fuld's bloop single to left leading off the sixth inning.

Deep-sixed: Fuld's single started a disastrous sixth inning for CC, who walked Jennings, the next batter, and went to 3-1 on Ben Zobrist when, suddenly, a ball got loose from the Yankees bullpen and rolled onto the field, causing the umpires to call time as Sabathia was about to release the pitch. Zobrist lined the next delivery between Alfonso Soriano and Curtis Granderson to score both runners and tie the game at two. Longoria then followed with a line single to left, scoring Zobrist to give the Rays a 3-2 lead. CC got two big strikeouts but Yunel Escobar reached on an infield hit to give the Rays two on with two out. The Yankees were spared further damage when James Loney lined out to Mark Reynolds at first.

Evan Long ball: Longoria dropped a cherry on the sundae in the eighth, blasting a 1-2 pitch from Preston Claiborne over the center-field fence to add an insurance run.

Priced out: The Yankees squeezed two runs off Price in the fourth, both courtesy of Austin Romine, after loading the bases on singles by A-Rod, Vernon Wells and Reynolds. Romine worked out a nine-pitch walk, fouling off four straight 3-2 pitches, to force in the first run, and his heady baserunning on Ichiro's groundout to second -- hesitating between first and second so that Zobrist could not tag him out -- allowed the second run to score from third.

Not so fast: Soriano was so sure he had hit a home run off Price in the sixth, he went into the whole routine -- flipping the bat away, skipping his way from home to first -- only to see Rodriguez make an excellent leaping catch at the wall in left.

What's next: Ivan Nova (7-4, 3.17 ERA) tries to avert the sweep against RHP Alex Cobb (8-2, 2.85) in the series finale. The first pitch is at 1:40 p.m.