ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Rays took themselves out of playoff contention with a terrible summer stretch that saw them lose 24 of 27 games. Without much on the line, they've gotten off the mat nicely, winning seven of 12 since, due largely in part to consistent starting pitching that was lacking.
On Saturday, left-hander Drew Smyly won for the first time in 12 starts, holding the Yankees to two runs and four hits in six solid innings.
Smyly got the lead in the first, lost it and got it back again in the third. He said the scoreboard helped him relax on the mound and pitch better as a result.
"When you're pitching with the lead, it makes it so much easier," Smyly said. "You can attack guys. You can go right at them. Great defense tonight, and this is the way we need to play."
It was the 10th straight quality start from Rays starting pitching, matching the second longest streak in franchise history. The challenge of continuing that -- and potentially closing out a three-game series sweep -- falls to rookie Blake Snell, who has a 3.05 ERA and made his major-league debut against New York in April, holding the Yankees to one run and two hits in five innings in what ended up a 3-2 loss for the Rays.
The Yankees, who had won eight of 10 games just last week, have dropped three straight and scored just five runs in those games. They'll try to stop their struggles with RHP Michael Pineda (5-9, 5.00 ERA) starting Sunday.
New York hadn't lost three in a row for more than a month, and its streak of three straight series wins will end regardless of Sunday's outcome. The pitching is a concern, giving up six home runs in the two losses to the Rays, and that could get worse if any deals are made before Monday's trade deadline.
They have totaled 12 runs in their seven losses since the All-Star break, and manager Joe Girardi understands that the bats must come alive if the Yankees are to close the gap with first-place Baltimore, just six games entering the night.
Even in Saturday's 6-3 loss, he pointed to the eighth inning, when the Yankees put two on and had the tying run at the plate in Carlos Beltran, who leads the team with 21 home runs and 62 RBIs. But Beltran grounded into a double play, ending a potential rally.
"We had an opportunity and had the right guy up in the situation," Girardi said. "Unfortunately, he hit it hard into the ground. ... They're frustrating losses. We've gotten behind early in games and we haven't been able to catch up. You have to go out and win tomorrow. That's all you can do is find a way to win tomorrow."