A-Rod can't rescue silent Yanks late
Sabathia's uneven effort against Rays receives no support
ST. PETERSBURG -- The idea was that Alex Rodriguez would take a complete timeout from his ongoing pursuit of a milestone 600th home run, but with James Shields dominating, the Yankees couldn't resist calling on their ace in the hole.
Yet Rodriguez didn't fare any better than most of his teammates, striking out looking as a seventh-inning pinch-hitter in a 3-0 Rays victory on Sunday at Tropicana Field, accounting for just one of 11 punchouts Shields recorded in stifling the Bronx Bombers.
"All he threw was changeups," said Nick Swisher, who had one of the Yankees' four hits off Shields. "We're going to have to remember that for next time. They weren't really for strikes. We were chasing them."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi elected to rest Rodriguez after the All-Star had played 13 straight games, noting that he also did not want to play Rodriguez for three consecutive games on the artificial turf, fearing that it might aggravate A-Rod's balky right hip.
"I just felt he needed a blow, but that wasn't going to keep me from using him in the game," Girardi said. "I was trying to get a two-run homer there."
Mark Teixeira was also issued a half-day as New York's designated hitter, and new acquisition Lance Berkman couldn't equal the Gold Glover's prowess at first base, caught early in three plays that -- while no errors were charged -- came off as less than graceful.
The Rays' first run off left-hander CC Sabathia scored in the second inning, as Kelly Shoppach lifted a soft flare to first base that tipped Berkman's glove as he backtracked into the outfield before collapsing in a heap, helpless as Willy Aybar came home.
"That was one of those that looked worse than it was," Berkman said. "I felt like I did pretty much everything I could do. It was just out of my reach and didn't look like the most graceful attempt."
In the third, Berkman couldn't scoop a less-than-perfect throw from Robinson Cano that went as a Reid Brignac infield single, and Brignac came around to score one of Tampa Bay's two runs that inning on Carl Crawford's chopping RBI infield single.
Evan Longoria bounced into a run-scoring double play that brought home the Rays' third run. Finally, Berkman fumbled a ball that went for a Jason Bartlett hit in the fourth inning, though he redeemed himself with a diving stop to help Sabathia pitch out of further trouble.
"I don't like this field," Berkman said. "I don't think it's a very good surface for baseball. That having been said, I didn't get any bad hops. There was nothing out of the ordinary. But this plays a little different."
Girardi defended his decision to offer rest to both Rodriguez and Teixeira -- as well as Brett Gardner, who later entered the game -- citing the Yankees' schedule of 37 games in 38 days.
"I'm just playing so I don't blow somebody out -- you have to do that," Girardi said. "We didn't score any runs today; that's why we lost the game. And that's the bottom line, we didn't score any runs.
"We're in a really tough stretch, and I know that sometimes a guy needs a blow off his legs for a bit. There's [information] at my disposal that maybe everybody else doesn't have."
The three runs were too many anyway, as Shields added a few new pages to the Yankees' scouting reports by exploiting a deceptive changeup that kept New York's lineup flailing.
"I was pretty efficient with my pitches," Shields said. "I mean, that's a good lineup. It was a big series win for us. Taking two out of three from them is pretty big."
Shields struck out six straight Yankees through one stretch, and after Jorge Posada's second-inning single, New York did not touch Shields for another hit until Berkman logged his first Yankees hit with a sixth-inning single.
"That was the best I've ever seen Shields," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "You're talking about a left-handed-hitting, very good-hitting lineup, and he was able to get 11 strikeouts. These guys don't punch out like that. You have to have something good going on."
Sabathia acknowledged that he was simply outpitched, and it came on a day he did not exactly enjoy his sharpest effort of the season, as he allowed three runs on eight hits over 6 2/3 innings.
"Shields was throwing a great game, and I got myself in a lot of trouble," Sabathia said. "I was just trying to keep it where it was."
Though Sabathia kept the Yankees in the game and did not kill the bullpen, firing 112 pitches while issuing three walks -- one intentional -- and three strikeouts, the left-hander nevertheless lost an August start for the first time since 2007.
"I didn't think he had great command of his sinker today," Girardi said. "He found a way to keep the game close and give us a chance. We just didn't score him any runs."
Kerry Wood made his Yankees debut in relief of Sabathia, freezing Longoria with a nasty 3-2 curveball to end the seventh inning before showing signs of rust in the eighth. Chad Gaudin bailed Wood out of a bases-loaded spot with an inning-ending strikeout.
Still sitting on 599 career homers, A-Rod saw his wait to reach No. 600 extend to 38 at-bats and 43 plate appearances -- a chase that will continue at Yankee Stadium on Monday, when the Yankees greet the Blue Jays.
As for the Yankees and Rays, they will not meet again until September, but this three-game series at The Trop may serve as a stern warning that runs should continue to be difficult to come by once they renew acquaintances.
"It's two good teams," Girardi said. "This is going to go down to the wire. We just need to win a series when we get home."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.