ST. PETERSBURG -- In a prime example of how baseball is a clean slate every night, the New York Yankees followed up their rousing 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday with a disappointingly flat 6-3 loss on Tuesday, made worse by the fact that down in Atlanta, the Toronto Blue Jays lost to the lowly Braves 3-2.
So instead of shaving another game off the Blue Jays' lead and trailing in the AL East by only two games, the Yankees remain three games back, now with just 18 games left to play.
This one started off promisingly, with a first-inning home run by Alex Rodriguez, and a two-run homer by Greg Bird in the fourth. In his first start in more than two months, Adam Warren couldn't give the Yankees much length, and, predictably enough, the parade of young relievers that followed him was unable to hold the 3-2 lead they were handed after the fourth inning. And in the ninth inning, they got runners to second and third with Brett Gardner (representing the tying run) at the plate, but he flied out harmlessly to left.
The result was a defeat that let a bit of the air out of the balloon the Yankees had inflated with their dramatic Monday night victory. Now, they must beat the best pitcher the Rays have on Wednesday to come out of here with a series win. Not easy.
Tough chance: Rico Noel was brought up strictly to pinch run, but Yankees manager Joe Girardi left him in the game to play right field after he ran for Carlos Beltran in the eighth. Of course, he got his first major-league chance in the field in the bottom of the inning, in a tough situation, with runners on first and third and two out in a one-run ballgame. And it was no easy chance, a soft pop fly to shallow right off the bat of J.P. Arencibia that Noel charged, got a glove on, but could not hold. It was scored a hit that drove in both baserunners and gave the Rays a 6-3 lead.
Rumbelow's nice fifth: Girardi brought rookie Nick Rumbelow into a tough spot -- runners on first and third and just one out in the fifth inning of a 3-2 game -- and the kid did the job, striking out Grady Sizemore (looking) and Evan Longoria (swinging) to escape damage.
Nicked up: A meeting of the Nicks, the Yankees' Rumbelow and the Rays' Franklin, ended badly for Rumbelow, who followed up his strong fifth inning with a disastrous sixth in which he fed a 1-1 gopher ball to Franklin, who replaced Asdrubal Cabrera (knee strain) at shortstop. Franklin crushed it deep into the right-field seats with a runner on to give the Rays a 4-3 lead.
Bird seed: Bird fought off four 3-2 pitches until, on the 10th pitch of his fourth-inning at-bat, the rookie rocketed a fastball high off the batter's eye in dead-center with A-Rod on (leadoff walk) to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead. It was Bird's sixth home run in 96 big-league at-bats, which translates to something like 36 over the course of a full season.
Inglorious: Just when you thought he had kicked the habit, Didi Gregorius committed a baserunning gaffe, breaking full speed for home from third on a comebacker to the mound with one out in the fifth. He was easily thrown out at the plate, stalling a potential rally that died when A-Rod struck out to end the inning.
Blizzard of hits: The Rays got six hits off Warren in the first two innings, but only came away with two runs. They lost one baserunner in the first inning when John Jaso was thrown out by Brett Gardner trying to advance from first to third on Grady Sizemore's single to shallow left, and after Logan Forsythe singled in a run, Asdrubal hit a grounder that Greg Bird turned into an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play. And in the second inning, the Rays got Mike Mahtook (one-out double) home on a stolen base combined with a throwing error by Brian McCann.
What bone bruise? Just hours after undergoing an MRI on his left knee, Rodriguez took over the team lead with 32 HRs, a liner over the right-center-field fence, to give the Yankees a 1-0 first-inning lead. A-Rod apparently injured his knee on his headfirst slide into home plate in Sunday's game against the Blue Jays, and the MRI revealed a bone bruise, similar to the injury that ended Mark Teixeira's season.