The Rays' seventh loss in their last 10 games knocked them out of first place, all the way to third, as they fell to 31-25 on the season. Tampa Bay had been in first place -- alone or tied -- since May 27 and had remained there despite losing five of seven prior to Wednesday night. The Orioles are now alone at the top of the American League East, with the Yankees in second, a half-game behind Baltimore and a half-game ahead of the Rays.
A night after ageless lefty Andy Pettitte contributed 7 1/3 efficient innings in a 7-0 Yankees win, Ivan Nova continued the string of goose eggs against the Rays. The Yankees right-hander allowed a hit to Desmond Jennings leading off the game, and the Rays did not get another hit until Sean Rodriguez doubled with one out in the eighth.
"He pitched really well," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Nova. "We have not been the best hitting team of late; I can't argue that. But his command of his breaking stuff -- he pitched well with his fastball. With him, you like to get a couple of guys on and hopefully rattle him a little bit. We just could not get guys on base in order to get him in a stretch long enough to do something. He was pretty much in command of the game."
Nova finally ran out of gas in the ninth, when he allowed a leadoff triple to Jennings and B.J. Upton followed with an RBI triple to right.
"It was kind of a long inning in the eighth inning, and I was concerned [Nova] lost his rhythm there because the game moved along really well," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Both guys seemed to be throwing a ton of strikes and could throw the ball where they wanted to. I was a little bit concerned when he went out there for the ninth."
Added Upton: "I mean, he just had it. [Rays starter Alex] Cobb threw a good game, too. It was a good, old-fashioned pitching duel there for a while. We tried to make a little late charge; it just didn't happen."
Prior to that run scoring in the ninth, 19 innings had passed since the Rays had scored a run, dating back to their win over the Orioles on Sunday afternoon, when Tampa Bay scored four in the sixth.
Former Rays closer Rafael Soriano took over for Nova and got the final three outs to preserve the win while earning his eighth save of the season.
Cobb pitched well enough to win, allowing only solo home runs to Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano through seven innings.
Cobb "didn't make many mistakes today," Teixeira said. "I think he probably tried to throw a slider down and in, and he just left it over the middle of the plate. Luckily, I put a good swing on it."
The Yankees tacked on two more runs in the eighth on RBI doubles by Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez.
Cobb, who retired 10 consecutive batters at one point, took no solace in the fact that he pitched well.
"We lost," Cobb said. "We're out of first, you know? You're not happy. But regardless of how I pitched, you're never going to go away happy."
Rays batters have had fewer than 10 hits in each of their last 12 games, matching the longest such streak by any team in the Major Leagues this season.
"We just have to get some of the guys going," Maddon said. "We have to get [Ben Zobrist] going and [Carlos Pena] going, of course, and [Luke Scott], et cetera. But I liked the battle tonight. We just got outpitched."