Defense sets tone in Rays' Bronx setback

Defense sets tone in Rays' Bronx setback

Defense sets tone in Rays' Bronx setback
NEW YORK -- Errors, walks and a grand slam -- a fourth-inning drive hit by Russell Martin -- led to yet another uncharacteristic chapter of Rays baseball on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.

And once again, the unfamiliar mistakes added up to a defeat, as the Yankees took a 7-0 win to move within a half-game of the American League East-leading Rays and Orioles.

"It's definitely frustrating that we're not playing up to our potential," Rays starter James Shields said after taking his fourth loss of the season. "We definitely have to minimize the mistakes in all aspects of our game, not only defense. We've got to do better on offense and do better on pitching. Today was not a very good game."

Shields' words were an understatement in the aftermath of the Rays' fifth loss in seven games, which came riddled with all the little things done wrong that used to be done right.

Shields found trouble in the first inning when the Yankees loaded the bases with one out. The right-hander struck out Mark Teixeira looking for the second out before Raul Ibanez hit a grounder to shortstop Elliot Johnson.

Johnson, who was shifted behind second base, picked the ball cleanly and appeared to look toward second base briefly before throwing a one-hopper to first. Carlos Pena could not make the save, and the ball rolled into foul territory, allowing two runs to score.

"You always anticipate a ball in the dirt," Pena said. "That's the way I prepare myself, for the worst, and then if it's a good throw, you know easier for me. I did the best I could to pick it for him, for us, but I couldn't. It kind of had that in-between hop. ... You just have to fight with it."

Two more unearned runs.

From 2008-11, the Rays allowed the fewest unearned runs in the AL with 196, which equated to an average of 49 per season. Already this season, they have allowed 31.

In the fourth, the Yankees loaded the bases with one out thanks to two walks and a single. Shields got ahead of Martin, 0-2, when the Yankees catcher drove a 92-mph fastball into the right-field stands for a grand slam and a 6-0 lead.

"Down, 0-2, against Shields, you're not thinking about hitting a homer," Martin said. "I just got a good pitch, out over the plate, really just trying to protect, and the next thing I know, it's in the bleachers."

A frustrated Shields lamented that the pitch missed its mark.

"Four-seam fastball up," Shields said. "I just wanted to get it up a little higher. If I get it up a little higher, it's a strikeout."

Nick Swisher doubled home another run for the Yankees in the fifth to push the lead to 7-0.

Shields lost his third straight decision while allowing the most runs he's surrendered since last Aug. 21, when the Mariners scored seven off him.

The Rays made three errors, giving the team six in its last three games. The Rays' season total of 49 ranks as the second most among AL teams.

"This game is interesting, and it seems to sometimes go in cycles like that," Pena said. "Not only in hitting, but pitching and defense. Our defense hasn't been up to par. Definitely, we're capable of playing better defense than this, and that is the most important thing."

Manager Joe Maddon called the Rays' defense "viral right now."

"It's a virus; we have to get rid of it," Maddon said. "We need some kind of an infield antibiotic. I have no explanation. These guys are really good infielders; we're making mistakes that we normally don't make. We have to stop doing that."

Meanwhile, 39-year-old lefty Andy Pettitte silenced the Rays' bats, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out 10 in 7 1/3 innings to pick up his third win of the season.

"I don't really try to strike guys out," Pettitte said. "I feel like I'm able to keep guys off balance an awful lot right now. My command was just really good tonight. I only left a couple of balls over the heart of the zone all night long. I've been real happy with my command and the feel of all my pitches. I didn't think it would come back so quick. The feel of my cutter has been really good."

Pena complimented Pettitte, noting, "He did a great job."

"He was throwing a lot of strikes," Pena said. "And his breaking pitches were very effective today. When they weren't strikes, they looked like strikes, and he got a lot of swings. I thought he did an outstanding job. We have to tip our hats to him, because he was devastating today and he beat us."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.