Javy picks up right where he left off

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- As far as defining Yankees moments go for Javier Vazquez, nothing tops Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, when he came into the second inning with the bases loaded, threw his first pitch to Johnny Damon and didn't see the baseball again until it landed in the stands for a season-crushing grand slam.

Still, the beginning of his second go-round with the Yankees was a heckuva way to start back on that hoariest of sports clichés, the old Road to Redemption.

For Vazquez, that road was potholed and treacherous, an axle-buster and until his next chance, a dead end.

In his first Yankees start since returning to the club in December, Vazquez pretty much picked up where he left off on Oct. 20, 2004, the date that will forever live in infamy for Yankees fans, and for Vazquez until he makes it right.

"Obviously, you want to get off on the right foot," said Vazquez, who came back to the Yankees in the deal that sent Melky Cabrera to the Atlanta Braves. "So it's disappointing to lose this game."

He will, of course, get another 30 or so chances this year, but oh, how he wanted to begin wiping that stain clean his first time out. Instead, the Rays wiped the floor with him, scoring five runs off him in the fourth inning and three more in the sixth on their way to a laugher of a 9-3 victory at Tropicana Field.

Meanwhile, Vazquez's Tampa Bay counterpart, the fireballing 24-year-old lefty David Price, handcuffed the Yankees for 7 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and striking out seven.

Price, who regularly hit 97 on the gun, caught Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano looking in back-to-back at-bats in the second on fastballs that froze them in their tracks. Nick Johnson, who started the season 0-for-10, had his first two hits of the year, a single and an RBI double, but Mark Teixeira's annual April slide continued with another 0-for-4, which put his hitless streak at 16.

"I started my career 0-for-16, so I've come full circle," a clearly frustrated Teixeira said. "It seems like I do this to myself every year. It's not fun, but hopefully I've got another 600 or so at-bats so I'm not really gonna kill myself over it."

Still, the Yankees had eight hits, including A-Rod's RBI triple off the wall in left, but it was the pitching that was a true study in contrasts; Vazquez, the 33-year-old veteran of 12 major league seasons, seemingly losing his composure with men on base, and Price, the kid with 150 major league innings under his belt, holding his together by keeping the defending World Champions off balance and off the bases.

"It just seemed like he was rushing things a little bit once they got men on base," Jorge Posada said of Vazquez. "From the stretch, his arm angle seemed to change."

Everything seemed to change when Vazquez left a fastball up and out over the plate to Carlos Pena, who smacked it into the right-field seats for a two-run homer. From there on, Vazquez did not look like the same pitcher. He allowed three more singles and a double in the inning, in which the Rays batted around and tacked on three more runs.

And in spite of Vazquez's preoccupation with holding on runners, B.J. Upton stole a base that led to a run. All told, the Rays stole three bases -- one against Sergio Mitre, who came on in relief -- and all of those runners came around to score.

"I was trying too hard to keep them from stealing a base," Vazquez said, "But no matter, I still gotta make my pitches."

Particularly troubling to Vazquez was an 0-2 fastball that he tried to get down and away to Dioner Navarro in the fourth, only to see it leak back toward the middle, where Navarro slapped it into left for an RBI single, and a 1-0 slider in the sixth that Willy Aybar crushed for a two-run homer.

"He made some mistakes the second time through the lineup," manager Joe Girardi said. "You don't have a [video game] controller in your hands. You can't always make the ball go where you want it to. He didn't get it done tonight, but he'll bounce back."

It was the third time in four games the Yankees manager has had to deliver a version of that same speech, since aside from Andy Pettitte, at 38 years old the Australopithecus Man of the starting rotation, all of the Yankees' starters have been shelled their first time out.

CC Sabathia, who got beat up for five earned runs in 5 1/3 innings in the opening night loss in Boston, gets his own shot at redemption Saturday afternoon, and A.J. Burnett, who allowed three runs in five innings in the second game of the season, goes on Sunday. But Vazquez, who has waited six years to make up for what happened that night at the old Yankee Stadium, will have to wait five more long days.

"He knows what he did tonight," Posada said. "And he knows what he has to do. Now, we move on."

Postgame notes: Girardi said Posada would get Saturday's afternoon game off but come back to catch Burnett in Sunday's finale. "I'm not gonna catch him too many day games after night games," the manager said. ... The crowd of 33,221 was larger than any Friday night game the Rays played all of last year. ... The Yankees have never beaten Price, who is now 2-0 with a 2.56 ERA in four starts against them.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.