Yankees unable to keep Rays down
Cano's error in ninth inning turns out to be difference in loss
NEW YORK -- The days when the downtrodden Devil Rays trudged into Yankee Stadium, dragging their feet like some baseball version of the Washington Generals, appear to be a thing of the past.
Holding their heads high and playing with hearty amounts of what Derek Jeter unmistakably identifies as confidence, Tampa Bay has somehow had the Yankees' number this season.
The Devil Rays continued to be a thorn in the Yankees' side Tuesday in the Bronx, rallying from three runs down and handing New York a 4-3 loss -- its 10th in 14 games against their division rivals.
The eventual winning run scored in the ninth inning, as Robinson Cano bobbled Julio Lugo's ground ball, allowing speedster Joey Gathright to score from second base.
But to a man, asked for a turning point in Tuesday's game, the Yankees pointed not in the direction of their rookie second baseman, but instead to themselves.
After all, after scratching out a 3-0 lead after two innings against Tampa Bay's Casey Fossum, the cushion for starter Randy Johnson should have been in place. An ideal blueprint for a beautiful September evening naturally could have put the Yankees on cruise control from that point on, but it wasn't to be.
"To be up, 3-0, and not be able to stretch it out," catcher John Flaherty said, "that's probably where we lost it."
"We had them on the ropes early and couldn't put them away," manager Joe Torre said. "That's our fault."
Perhaps fittingly in a strange sort of way, as the Yankees have struggled so mightily to intimidate the perennial also-rans of the American League East, it has been the team's most intimidating pitcher who has had the most trouble against Tampa Bay.
Johnson took Tuesday's start looking to notch his first victory in four contests against the Devil Rays, but left with a no-decision after 6 1/3 innings of three-run ball. The early lead was chipped away at in the fourth inning by run-scoring hits from Alex Gonzalez and Toby Hall, and erased completely in the seventh when Jorge Cantu lifted a sacrifice fly to center off of reliever Tom Gordon.
"They've obviously played us well," Johnson said. "They've played a lot of people well. We don't take them lightly. I don't think anyone does."
Torre said some of Johnson's troubles might have come from fighting his arm slot beginning in the fourth inning, when three of the night's seven hits off the Big Unit brought in two Tampa Bay runs. Johnson denied the problem was mechanical, instead alluding to the Devil Rays' aggressiveness the second time through the order.
"I just tried to limit the damage," Johnson said.
So, too, did Fossum -- who scattered nine hits in six innings, but held the Yankees to just the three early runs, two of them earned.
New York had its chances, particularly in the sixth inning, when Jason Giambi was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double to start the inning. Bernie Williams was tagged out at home plate to end it. That set the stage for the Devil Rays to force the issue in the ninth against Rivera.
With the speedy Gathright in motion on the pitch, Lugo smacked a ground ball past the pitcher's outstretched glove, but right toward Cano, who was playing close to second to prevent the pinch-runner from stealing third.
A play at the plate looked likely until the ball scooted off Cano's glove and through his legs into short center field, allowing Gathright to score as Rivera cut off the throw home, instead nailing Lugo at second base.
"Everything was right. I just missed it," Cano said. "It's disappointing."
"It's obviously a play he's made a number of times," Torre said. "He didn't make it tonight."
It's those kinds of moments that can breed confidence in a scrappy club with little to lose, something that might have been on Jeter's mind as he raced down to first base, trying in vain to break up the game-ending double play a half-inning later.
But regardless of how the Devil Rays have treated the Yankees to this point, two more games -- and a chance to gain ground in the postseason hunt -- lie ahead this week. It'll be the team's opportunity, Jeter said, to make people forget all about this and the other nine dates with Tampa Bay.
"The season's not over," Jeter said. "What if we win the division? We don't have to worry about Tampa Bay."
Bryan Hoch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.