Yanks knocked around by Rays
Mussina roughed up; bats held in check by Jackson
NEW YORK -- A small surge after the All-Star break renewed hope that the Yankees could ride it all the way back to the head of the American League East. While anything remains possible, there weren't many reasons for optimism on Friday.
The Yankees were stifled by struggling right-hander Edwin Jackson and couldn't figure how to handle sub-.200-hitting catcher Dioner Navarro, among other major problems, dropping a 14-4 decision to the Devil Rays on Friday.
"Every once in a while, you get it handed to you," said Yankees starter Mike Mussina, who allowed six runs in 4 2/3 innings. "Obviously, I didn't pitch very well at all, and we played kind of flat.
"We were never really in it today. We've got a long day tomorrow and we've got to come out and play with a little more energy, and get our heads in the right place, and get going in the right direction again. We can't afford to get down and lose a handful of games in a row."
The blowout loss was New York's second straight defeat after running off a five-game winning streak, moving the Yankees eight games back of the division-leading Red Sox, with a doubleheader looming for a long day at the Stadium on Saturday.
Separated from his personal catcher, Wil Nieves, for the first time since May 22, Mussina couldn't get a decent charge going with his battery of Jorge Posada.
The issue was less with who was catching the ball, Mussina said, than with how he was throwing it. Unable to find any sort of consistent command of his curve ball, Mussina was relegated to trying to get ahead while being careful with his fastball, a combination that rarely works for him -- and especially exacerbated by getting into deep counts.
"I can't survive that way," Mussina said. "It's frustrating, because I've been throwing the ball pretty well. I let it all explode in one inning."
Mussina was hit hard in the four-run third, which included a two-run homer by Upton -- one of two in the game hit by the infielder, including a late shot off reliever Scott Proctor -- plus Carl Crawford's run-scoring single and a sacrifice fly.
"It was an unusual start for Moose, because it looked like he had real good stuff in the first two innings," manager Joe Torre said. "Spotting pitches, he looked like he was good. In the third inning, it looked like he wasn't missing by a lot, but he was just getting in some bad counts."
The 38-year-old would be knocked out as the Devil Rays batted around for a second time in the fifth inning, sending 10 men to the plate and scoring five runs. In all, Mussina was charged with six runs on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings, walking three and striking out five.
While Mussina allowed doubles to two of the four batters he faced in the fifth, the big blow was Navarro's grand slam to right off reliever Edwar Ramirez, who pitched for the first time since July 6 and faced five batters, throwing 19 pitches -- and just two strikes.
"My arm felt good, I felt good, everything," Ramirez said. "I don't know what happened."
He retired none, walking four and surrendering the blast to Navarro, who had also doubled in the contest off Mussina.
After the game, Ramirez -- whose ERA bloated to 15.43 -- was choked by emotion and had to cut short an interview with reporters, retreating to his locker and drying his eyes with his uniform pants.
Torre absolved Ramirez of the blame for his ineffective performance, saying that it had more to do with his lack of regular work than any dearth of physical ability.
Ramirez struck out the side in his Major League debut on July 3 and recorded four outs on July 6 against the Angels, but hadn't pitched since, his service relegated to the bullpen mound.
"Ramirez just hasn't worked," Torre said. "We had no idea what to expect when we brought him in. We knew the only time he was going to get the call would be in situations like this. ... That's just the product of that."
Aside from Andy Phillips' solo home run in the seventh, the thrills for a Friday night crowd of 53,957 were limited -- so much so, in fact, that many took to chanting wildly for career Minor Leaguer Shelley Duncan, who was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre earlier in the afternoon and made his Major League debut as the Yankees' designated hitter.
Nieves and Robinson Cano had run-scoring hits in a three-run eighth off Brian Stokes, but the biggest cheers were indeed for Duncan, who captured the crowd's attention with a long fourth-inning foul ball and then stroked his first big-league hit in the eighth, an RBI single to center field.
"That was a blast," Duncan said. "It was a lot of fun, especially after I got that first hit. Hearing them gave me some pretty big goosebumps. I got the chills, and it was a special moment I won't forget."
Chances are, he'll be the only Yankee who savors any part of an otherwise dreary evening in the Bronx.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.