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Yanks' lead slips as Rays storm Bronx

Yanks' lead slips as Rays storm Bronx

NEW YORK -- A.J. Burnett had ducked downstairs to change shirts while his team was batting in the third inning Wednesday, and he returned to the dugout just in time to witness the beginning of an impressive lightning show over Yankee Stadium.

Once again, the elements had conspired against Burnett, who wouldn't get a chance to head back out with what he thought was electric stuff. Instead, the bullpens ruled the rest of the evening as the Yankees suffered a soggy 7-2 defeat to the Rays.

"Especially when you're in a situation like this, you want to be out there," Burnett said. "You can't control that. We'll continue our work and then look forward to the next one. It's not going to set me back, let's put it that way."

Back-to-back homers by Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria in the seventh highlighted the Tampa Bay attack as New York's advantage in the American League East dipped to 1 1/2 games. The Yankees' magic number to clinch a postseason berth remains at three.

Burnett could have used the reps as he continues to claw back from an awful August. The right-hander has made small strides to straighten out his mechanics and approach in recent starts, but he was also limited to just four innings in a Sept. 11 start at Texas due to weather.

"He wants to be out there, but I think he understands the situation with the rain," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "What are you going to do? That's one thing we can't control with Mother Nature. He dealt with it OK. His stuff was really good tonight, and he was pleased with that."

Burnett recorded just nine outs Wednesday before play was interrupted by a two-hour, 11-minute delay, which arrived with New York's Francisco Cervelli batting in the third inning. The long wait knocked both Burnett and Rays starter Wade Davis from the game.

Touched for a first-inning run by the Rays, Burnett limited the damage. John Jaso led off with a single and advanced on a walk and groundout before scoring on a deep Longoria sacrifice fly, but Burnett then got the final out on a fly ball to left field. He saw it as progress.

"Maybe a couple of months ago, I would have [given up more]," Burnett said. "It's one pitch at a time, and it's been that way for a while now. I'm going to give up a run here and there, it's just a matter of stopping it."

Burnett's 14 losses are tied for the second most by a Yankee over the last 20 years, behind only Melido Perez, who lost 16 in 1993. Still, Lance Berkman -- who hit his first Yankees homer in the fifth inning -- said that he has no concerns about Burnett heading into the playoffs.

"He was throwing 95 [mph] tonight. That's all I need to see," Berkman said. "When he's throwing the fastball like that, his breaking stuff is very effective. He did great last year, and I think he's going to be great again this year heading into the postseason."

The Yankees were held mostly in check by Rays pitching, managing just two runners past first base all night.

Davis hurled 2 1/3 innings of hitless ball before play was halted, and that string continued into the fifth inning until Berkman notched New York's first hit, a solo home run to right-center field -- his first after slugging 13 this year with the Astros.

"I didn't want to end up with a zero in that category," said Berkman, who is batting .370 (20-for-54) since returning from the disabled list on Sept. 1.

"One is better than none, but it didn't really help us win tonight. It's a homer and I'm glad to get it out of the way, and hopefully there will be a few more."

That shot off Jeremy Hellickson accounted for the damage into the sixth inning, when Alex Rodriguez blooped a run-scoring single in front of Crawford in left field to make it a 3-2 game.

Derek Jeter scored on Rodriguez's hit, touching home plate for the 1,678th time to move into sole possession of third place on the franchise all-time runs scored list, trailing only Babe Ruth (1,959) and Lou Gehrig (1,888).

But the Rays would pull away against the bullpen. After squeezing a sharp inning out of lefty Royce Ring in his Yankees debut, Girardi pushed the envelope and had Ring start the fifth, pulling him after a two-out walk to Jaso.

"He hasn't thrown in a while, so we pushed him sending him out there a second inning," Girardi said. "We thought if he could get through Jaso, that was it for him. He did a good job, but we pushed him."

Dustin Moseley relieved and allowed a RBI single to Crawford, then served up a solo home run to Dan Johnson leading off the sixth -- Johnson's third this month off New York pitching.

Crawford and Longoria then clubbed back-to-back shots off Chad Gaudin in the seventh inning, and Jonathan Albaladejo issued a bases-loaded walk to Ben Zobrist in the eighth that rounded out the scoring.

It wasn't like the Yankees and Rays haven't grown accustomed to playing evenly matched baseball with just one in-season meeting remaining on the agenda. But with Burnett long since having iced his arm and watched the rest of the contest from the clubhouse, the Yankees did have to wonder what might have transpired had the skies not interrupted.

"I felt like the matchup was Wade Davis and A.J., two guys that are pretty good, and then it ends up being the bullpens," Berkman said. "... To me, it was a totally different kind of feel. The crowd was gone, it wasn't the electricity that we had the first two nights. It was a shame that we had that long rain delay."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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