NEW YORK -- On the 22nd day of September, the New York Yankees rested. After clinching the American League East title in their 21st game in as many days, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano were given the night off Thursday, and the Yankees who did take the field weren't much more useful.
But while New York's 15-8 loss to Tampa Bay at Yankee Stadium wasn't cause for concern in and of itself, starter Bartolo Colon's second consecutive poor outing might give manager Joe Girardi pause before using him as a starter during the playoffs. Colon gave up seven runs (five earned) on seven hits in just three innings of work.
Since the All-Star break, Colon is now 2-6 with a 5.09 ERA in 13 starts. Of equal concern, Colon has lost noticeable velocity on his fastball, perhaps the result of throwing more Major League innings in 2011 than he had from 2008-2010 combined.
Fortunately for the Yankees, both Texas and Detroit lost, as well, maintaining New York's five-game lead for best record in the AL with six games to play.
"When we went into this year, we weren't sure how many innings we could get out of him," Girardi said of the 38-year-old Colon. "There is some concern there, and we'll just continue to evaluate it moving forward."
Colon's evening was a miserable one from the get-go, as he allowed the first four batters he faced to reach base in a three-run first inning. Then Derek Jeter made a throwing error with two outs in the second, allowing the Rays to rally for two runs on a triple to left-center by B.J. Upton and a double to right by Evan Longoria. Colon was removed from the game after the third, in which he surrendered a second-deck homer to right by Ben Zobrist. The three innings tied for the second-shortest outing Colon has had this year.
"He just wasn't real sharp," said Girardi, who added that it's possible Colon will start next week in St. Petersburg. "It looked like he made some mistakes in the middle of the plate tonight. His location wasn't very good."
"I felt good, but it seemed like they were ready, and they felt even better," Colon said through an interpreter. "I don't worry about [my velocity]. I just need to keep working hard and keep going out and try to do better next time."
Colon's replacement, Scott Proctor, didn't fare any better, allowing two homers and five runs in the fourth. Two of the runs came unearned after Jeter made another error, this one a fielding miscue charging at a slow grounder. By the end of the fifth inning, the Rays had scored 13 unanswered runs. The insurmountable lead helped Tampa Bay close to within two games of Boston for the AL Wild Card.
While Colon's ineffectiveness could hurt the Yankees in the playoffs, Tampa Bay starter Matt Moore could be causing problems for the Yankees long after that. In his first Major League start, Moore abused the watered-down Yankees lineup over five scoreless innings and set a Tampa Bay record for most strikeouts in a pitcher's first Major League start, with 11. He did not allow a runner to get past second base and allowed just four hits and one walk.
"For the most part, what's between your ears, you have to train yourself to envision things going the right way," Moore said. "So that's where my head was at going into today."
Due to the large deficit, Girardi was able to allow pitchers Andrew Brackman and Dellin Betances to make their Major League debuts. Brackman pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings, but Betances' eagerly awaited appearance was far less encouraging.
After retiring Reid Brignac to start the eighth inning, Betances walked the next three batters he faced and brought in a run by hitting Matt Joyce. The Rays scored a second run on a sacrifice fly before Betances issued his fourth walk of the inning and was taken out of the game.
Though the outing didn't go as planned, Betances didn't seem discouraged afterward.
"It was an emotional day for me," said Betances, a New York City native. "It's been a long journey and to finally be here ... it's been a long year, but I'm here now, so I've just got to keep working hard."
New York rallied for six runs against the Rays' bullpen in the sixth and seventh innings, the first two of which came from an Andruw Jones home run in the sixth. The runs cut the Rays' lead to seven, but it was as close as the Yankees would get to a comeback.
The Yankees' performance continued a league-wide "hangover effect." The two other teams to clinch their division this year, the Tigers and Phillies, also lost their first games after the clincher. Since 1997, teams are 38-38 in games following a division clincher.
"You're going to have some games like this during the season, they're no fun," Girardi said. "Sometimes you're on the winning side, sometimes you're on the losing side. We got down a lot and our guys tried to chip away and we had some opportunities, but it was just too much."
Aaron Taube is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.