ST. PETERSBURG -- There was a half-game separating the Yankees and Rays for the American League East lead when both teams got to their respective clubhouses at Tropicana Field on Monday, but that difference was too small for Derek Jeter to recognize.

Even though the official standings said the Yankees have the slightest of leads while being even in the loss column, Jeter said he can't quite figure the half-game factor. What he does recognize is that this series is one of importance.

"They're all big now. We have 19 games left and we're pretty much tied," Jeter said. "This is the position you want to be in. You don't have to worry about what another team is doing, you don't have to look at any scoreboards. We control what happens."

The Yankees have seven games remaining against the Rays, including a four-game showdown in New York on Sept. 20-23, so the AL East race could very well be decided by those contests.

"Neither one of us are in yet, so there's still a lot of work to be done," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "The division is important because everyone wants their home fans behind them as long as you can. We had it last year and it worked out very well for us. It's important to us."

Girardi said the Yankees are not looking at the AL Wild Card as a potential fall-back cushion. If the season had ended Sunday, the Yankees would have played the Rangers in the first round, with the Wild Card-winning Rays meeting the Twins. But that's all far from guaranteed.

"You understand what it is -- we have a lot of tough games left," Girardi said. "It's seven with these guys and six with Boston, and Baltimore is playing better and Toronto has been tough on us. We have two teams basically chasing us in that [Wild Card] race, Chicago and Boston. The cushion is never enough."

Yankees had limited availability in bullpen

ST. PETERSBURG -- The bullpen phone kept ringing down the left-field line Monday at Tropicana Field, but no matter what, Yankees manager Joe Girardi had steeled himself not to call for Joba Chamberlain or Dave Robertson.

"I didn't have everyone available today," Girardi said. "I used the people that were available. You go from there."

That was why, in the 10th inning of a scoreless game, Chad Gaudin was on the mound with no activity in the Yankees' bullpen, his responsibility alone to get the ball to the next frame.

Gaudin did escape a bases-loaded jam, striking out Brad Hawpe, but Sergio Mitre didn't fare as well. Pitching for just the second time since Aug. 27, Mitre served up the game-winning homer to Reid Brignac as the Yankees fell to the Rays, 1-0.

Robertson had pitched back-to-back days at Texas on Friday and Saturday, but Chamberlain had not pitched since Friday. Chamberlain said the Yankees have talked to him about approaching 65 games this season, believing he needs a break.

"It was one of those things where you've got to listen to your body at this time of year, especially with guys throwing the baseball that well," Chamberlain said. "There's a lot of guys to pick each other up. They said they're just trying to get an extra day to get everything feeling great, and go from there."

Chamberlain and Robertson are both expected to be available Tuesday; Girardi said the only member of his bullpen who wouldn't be ready is Gaudin. Chamberlain said he knew before the game he wasn't pitching Monday.

Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland said that his bullpen has been carrying a heavy workload the last couple of weeks.

"This was a big game obviously that you want to win, but it wasn't do-or-die," Eiland said. "Sometimes you lose a battle to win the war. We're going to have all our big guns so to speak tomorrow. We're still OK. We're going to be fine."

Girardi also said that he would have only used Mariano Rivera in a save situation Monday, having used him for two scoreless innings on Saturday. Eiland refuted the suggestion that the Yankees could view the American League Wild Card as a fall-back position, allowing them not to tax their bullpen.

"We want to win the division. We want best record," Eiland said. "We want home-field [advantage], so we're not even thinking or considering the Wild Card. The Wild Card is kind of a consolation prize. We're not into that."

Swisher concerned by knee, awaits MRI

ST. PETERSBURG -- Nick Swisher was happy to strap it on for his attempt at a Kirk Gibson moment in the Yankees' 1-0 loss to the Rays in extras on Monday, but the hobbled Yankees outfielder is looking forward to his date with an MRI tube.

Limping noticeably from a bruised left knee that Swisher said he aggravated during the Bombers' last homestand, Swisher said he is "excited" to get a second look at the injury, which he originally suffered on Aug. 24 in Toronto.

"We took the MRI before, and it said that there was nothing, but I found that really, really hard to believe," Swisher said. "We'll go in there tomorrow and whatever happens, just take it head on.

"... It's been going like this for a week, man. As much as you want to be out there and be playing, on one leg isn't exactly the way I want to be going out there."

Swisher is almost unable to run at this point, but he pinch-hit when needed in the eighth inning Monday, taking a crack against the Rays' David Price with a runner on first base and two outs.

"He said he could hit. It's just tough to run," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We took a shot at it. Maybe he hits a ball in the gap."

Coming into the at-bat 3-for-10 with a homer and a double lifetime against Price, Swisher worked an eight-pitch at-bat before smacking a ground ball to third, which he jogged on for a no-contest out.

"I felt like I put some good swings on it," Swisher said. "He came right at me with some fastballs, and in a situation like that, all you're really trying to do is put something in the gap.

"Obviously it's a lot easier said than done. I went out there, gave it a good at-bat, then took it to the house."

Swisher said that he is concerned that continuing to play on the bad knee will have an unwanted ripple effect that could keep him out of the lineup longer.

"You can't keep going out there and dragging around my left leg," Swisher said. "It's starting to affect a lot of other things -- my hips, my shoulders, the way I'm throwing the ball. My swings are a little off. If we get this MRI and they say, 'Take a week off,' I want to get healthy, man."

Brett Gardner was also out of the starting lineup Monday, though he pinch-ran for for Lance Berkman in the 10th inning, stealing second but getting tagged out attempting to steal third to end the frame.

Gardner said that an MRI examination taken Monday in Tampa, Fla., revealed inflammation in his sore right wrist. Gardner had a cortisone shot administered. Gardner hopes to resume swinging a bat on Tuesday.

"It was pretty much good news," Gardner said before Monday's game. "Nothing's messed up. It's just a lot of inflammation where the tendon goes into the wrist. ... I couldn't have picked up a bat today."

Gardner's troubles with the wrist date back to a June 27 hit-by-pitch during the Yankees' Interleague series against the Dodgers, and the speedster mentioned to hitting coach Kevin Long that it has been bothering him again.

Worth noting

Robinson Cano batted second Monday against the Rays' David Price, the first time in 2010 he has hit in that spot and just the 70th game in his career. Cano batted second in 56 starts during the 2005 season. "We looked at our options and we thought that was our best option," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. ... Andy Pettitte is scheduled to make a second rehab appearance for Double-A Trenton on Tuesday, as they face Altoona in Game 1 of the Eastern League Championship Series. ... The Yankees have not officially announced if Javier Vazquez's start will be skipped Friday against the Orioles. A.J. Burnett could start instead. ... Left-hander Wilkin De La Rosa cleared waivers and was outrighted to Double-A Trenton.