With five games remaining in the regular season, the Yankees fell to three games behind the Red Sox in the American League East. New York's magic number for clinching a playoff berth remained at one, as the Tigers defeated the Twins.
Buoyed by Alex Rodriguez's third-inning grand slam and five scoreless -- if not shaky -- innings from left-hander Kei Igawa, the Yankees carried a five-run lead into the sixth inning before New York's bullpen gave it back.
Struggling righty Edwar Ramirez allowed three baserunners and recorded just one out before light-hitting September callup Jorge Velandia reached Brian Bruney for his first career home run, a grand slam into the left-field seats.
"Those guys have always played us tough," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "It happens. We've been playing well. Sometimes, you're going to lose games. When you have a five-run lead, you think you're going to win."
The hit was another dagger in an inconsistent season for Bruney, who was optioned to Triple-A earlier in the year for similar control issues. Bruney walked two of the four batters he faced on Tuesday and has a 21.60 ERA in five appearances this month, putting his place on a potential postseason roster in jeopardy.
"The way I've been pitching lately doesn't satisfy me or anyone else," Bruney said. "I've got to do something or figure something out."
Despite an inordinate number of free passes by New York pitchers -- 11 total, and nine by the first three hurlers -- the Yankees tied the game against reliever Dan Wheeler in the eighth.
Jorge Posada doubled to left and Robinson Cano singled to center, moving pinch-runner Bronson Sardinha to third base. After pinch-hitter Jason Giambi struck out, Melky Cabrera brought the tying run home with a sacrifice fly to left field, but New York was unable to push across the go-ahead run in the ninth or 10th frames.
"We were sure hoping, but you know the Devil Rays," Johnny Damon said. "They seem to bounce back, and we gave them plenty of opportunities to get back in the game. It's a lot tougher to get base hits in this game than draw a walk."
|Alex Rodriguez notched his 16th career grand slam in the third inning of Tuesday's game vs. the Devil Rays and now has a Major League-leading 53 long balls this season.|
New York's first five innings on defense were dodgy, as Igawa -- filling in for Roger Clemens, shut down for the remainder of the regular season with a left hamstring injury -- made his first big league start since July 26. Expectations were not especially high.
"If you told me Kei was going to throw five shutout innings, you'd sell the house on it," Torre said.
And while Igawa was not especially sharp, walking five and throwing a wild pitch, he allowed just two hits and pitched out of trouble before running out of gas after 87 pitches. Ramirez surrendered Tampa Bay's first run in the sixth on a Navarro double.
"I knew this was my last outing [of 2007], so I definitely had fun," Igawa said through an interpreter. "But it would have been even more fun if we won."
Rodriguez put the Yankees ahead with his third grand slam of the season and the 16th of his career, a shot off Rays starter Jason Hammel in the third inning that clipped the top of the second "C Ring" above the left-field stands, approximately 115 feet above the field, bouncing back to earth as four Yankees circled the bases.
The home run was Rodriguez's 53rd of the season, moving him into sole possession of seventh place on the Yankees' all-time single-season home run list.
Damon tied a career high with five hits, and Jeter extended his hitting streak to 12 games for the Yankees, who are trying to keep a streak alive of making the playoffs in every season of the Torre era. They have not missed the postseason since the strike-shortened season of 1994.
"It's not easy, but we're going to get the job done," Damon said. "We're going to get back to the postseason, and we're going to be going on all cylinders. It's just unfortunate that we didn't execute."