"I think there's some frustration there, I do," said manager Joe Girardi after his club went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. "But if you look at Alex's at-bat, it's still a good at-bat. I think Robby had a decent at-bat against a guy throwing 98 mph from the left side. It's just not happening."
The lineup provided little support for starter CC Sabathia while the ace allowed five runs -- three earned -- in the first four innings, after the game was delayed for 26 minutes at the start due to rain.
Neither Sabathia nor David Price delivered the dominating performance expected of a pair of starters who entered the game tied atop the AL with seven wins apiece, but Price held the lead for five innings before the Tampa Bay bullpen took over.
The Yankees mustered a pair of late runs against Rays relievers, but Tampa Bay responded with two insurance runs of its own in the ninth to create little question of the result.
Sabathia provided his usual steady performance deep into the game, throwing seven innings on 121 pitches for his fourth consecutive start. He struck out a season-high 12 batters but allowed consecutive hits to Tampa Bay's seventh, eighth and ninth hitters in a two-run fourth inning, and an A-Rod throwing error in the third inning led to a pair of unearned runs.
"It's tough because I think today's game was the same as my season: inconsistent," Sabathia said. "I got off to a good start, then struggling, and I felt good at the end."
He made it deeper than Price, who claimed his league-leading eighth win in only five innings.
A 38-pitch fifth inning ended Price's night early, but he stranded seven Yankees baserunners and won his battle with Rodriguez to help escape a bases-loaded jam with only one out in the fifth.
Rodriguez made the left-hander work after a pair of swings and misses, but his third miss ended the at-bat. He left the clubhouse after the game without speaking to reporters.
"We got ahead, 1-2, and he was fouling off some pretty good curveballs," Price said. "I called [catcher Jose] Lobaton out there and told him I want to stick with it. Keep throwing them. That's the best my curveball's been all year and I want to stick with it. I was able to throw a good one, and he swung over the top of it."
It took six more pitches for Price to end the inning and his night. Cano grounded out to second base to leave them loaded after he grounded out to shortstop in the first inning with men on first and second.
"It's frustrating, but you'll take your chances every time they throw 38 pitches [in an inning]," Girardi said. "Our guys put at-bats on him. We had some walks in there, we just weren't able to get the hit."
Against Sabathia, the Rays did.
Drew Sutton sent a slider into the left-field corner to score a pair of runs in the fourth, and the Rays made the Yankees pay when Rodriguez sent his throw to first base on an Elliot Johnson ground ball sailing into the seats. Ben Zobrist followed with a single to score Johnson from second, then scored himself on a sacrifice fly after advancing to third on a Desmond Jennings double.
"I just thought they put their hits together," Girardi said. "When they got their hits, they put them together and that's what led to some of their runs. ... We had some opportunities tonight, and we made Price work really hard for his five innings. We just weren't able to do it."