ST. PETERSBURG -- Three straight losses for the Rays, two of them gut-wrenching losses. Not exactly the recipe for getting back into contention in the American League East.
Monday night's 5-4 loss came when rookie left-hander Alex Torres got a shot to show what he could do in the ninth inning. Unfortunately, that shot came against the Yankees, one of the most professional groups of hitters in the Major Leagues. The results were predictable as the Yankees pushed across the winning run in the final frame on a walk at Tropicana Field with 22,471 watching.
In defeat, the Rays moved to 50-44 on the season while falling to eight games behind the first-place Red Sox in the American League East and 6 1/2 behind the Yankees for the AL Wild Card spot.
"It's not a very optimal position," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "But believe me, I'm not losing any kind of hope on this one."
Prior to the end of the first half, the Rays knew they were heading into the most treacherous stretch of the schedule, with 11 straight games against the Yankees and Red Sox. Tampa Bay dropped two out of three in New York, with one game getting rained out, before starting the second half by losing two of three to Boston followed by Monday night's loss to the Yankees in the first game of a four-game set. The tally for the first eight games: two wins, five losses and a game to be made up in September.
Torres probably would not have even been on the team Monday night had the Rays' 1-0 loss to the Red Sox ended earlier than its 16 innings. Eight relievers were used in that contest, which left a scripted bullpen order of Joel Peralta, Cesar Ramos and Kyle Farnsworth available for duty Monday night. So prior to Monday's game, the Rays brought up Torres from Triple-A Durham to be the team's long man.
Peralta, Ramos and Farnsworth all had been used after eight innings, which left Torres as the only option when the game moved into the ninth with the game tied at 4.
"It was not an easy debut," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The circumstances of the debut were not easy ...
"[The Yankees] do not expand their strike zones," Maddon said. "On that team right there, maybe just a couple of guys you might have a chance to get them to swing at something outside the strike zone. That group makes you throw the ball over the plate."
Curtis Granderson singled to lead off the inning before Torres struck out Mark Teixeira swinging. After Granderson stole second with Robinson Cano batting, Cano grounded out to move Granderson to third.
Nick Swisher was issued an intentional walk, and Andruw Jones walked to load the bases. Russell Martin completed the winning rally by drawing a walk to push home Granderson and give the Yankees a 5-4 lead.
"Give the kid a lot of credit," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He [threw] some guys 3-2 changeups, and we got fortunate that we got a run by walks. For his first outing, that's a tough situation."
Torres, who was optioned back to Durham after the game, said of his Major League debut, "I felt alright. It doesn't matter what team it was, I was ready for the competition."
Torres wasn't the only help the Rays received from Durham for Monday night's game. Robinson Chirinos made his Major League debut at catcher -- getting a double in his first at-bat, and Alex Cobb re-joined the team to make his sixth start. He allowed just two runs in six innings and appeared headed for his third win against no defeats when he left the game with a 4-2 lead.
"I felt good," Cobb said. "I was locating my fastball a lot better than I have been and using my changeup off of that. Later in the game, I lost a little bit of feel for my fastball, had to use a lot of off-speed pitches and I think that since I was locating my fastball early, they chased some of the off-speed pitches."
Tampa Bay scored four runs in the first two innings against Yankees starter A.J. Burnett, which snapped the 16-inning scoreless drought. Evan Longoria's two-run double and a Burnett throwing error gave the Rays a 3-1 lead in the first, and Casey Kotchman added an RBI single in the second.
Unfortunately for the Rays, they did not maximize their scoring opportunities.
"We needed to put more points up there," Maddon said. "We had opportunities to get more runs and we did not do it.
Peralta and Ramos pitched the seventh and held the Yankees scoreless, but the Rays didn't have as much luck in the eighth, when Ramos allowed a single and a walk before giving way to Farnsworth.
Martin greeted the Rays closer with a single to load the bases before Brett Gardner singled home the Yankees' third run. Edwin Nunez grounded into a fielder's choice to tie the game at 4.
While the Rays situation might appear dire, Maddon wasn't about to express any kind of panic about the team's situation.
"I talked last year about that fine line between winning and losing," Maddon said. "Right now we're on the wrong side of that line, and we've got to get back on the right side."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.