Yanks fall in Pettitte's return

Yanks fall in Pettitte's return

NEW YORK -- A loud cheer erupted and flashbulbs popped in the seconds before Andy Pettitte threw his first pitch on Thursday, kicking and delivering on the Yankee Stadium mound for the first time since the 2003 World Series.

That might have been the highlight of what otherwise played out to be an unmemorable, 7-6 Yankees loss to the Devil Rays, made most notable by snow flurries that drifted in to add to the game's surreal atmosphere.

"I heard the fans, and I appreciate it," Pettitte said. "But again, I was so consumed with making sure I had a good first inning and not walking the first batter and controlling my emotions. Maybe I didn't take it all in like I should have."

Pettitte had vowed earlier this week that he would pause every now and then this season, trying to soak everything in and enjoy the ride. Then again, he might not want to remember much past that first inning.

The left-hander lasted just four-plus innings in a contest that featured three errors, four wild pitches -- three by New York -- and a passed ball, with three of the 14 runs charged as unearned.

"I know we'll clean it up," Alex Rodriguez said. "I think we're going to get better. It was unique. The snow was out there, and it was real cold. [But] we don't have any excuses."

The game's pattern varied from the storybook blueprint that the Yankees would have crafted for Pettitte's grand return. A bout with back spasms cost Pettitte stamina-building innings in Spring Training, forcing pregame projections to be lowered to just five innings.

Pettitte never quite got there, facing two batters in the fifth before yielding to reliever Scott Proctor, who allowed both inherited runners to score. Overall, Pettitte allowed four runs (two earned) and six hits, walking three and striking out two in an 83-pitch effort.

"It's a process with him," manager Joe Torre said. "He needs a little more work."

Pettitte said that he'd had some growing pains in readjusting to working with catcher Jorge Posada, who had receiving him sparingly in Spring Training because of the many hours Pettitte spent in the trainer's room instead of on the Legends Field mound or in the bullpen.

Combined with the transition to New York's chilly conditions, which may have proved to be more challenging than Pettitte expected after seven weeks in Tampa, he said he was prepared to chalk the effort up as a learning experience.

Much like right-hander Carl Pavano, who started on Monday to end a long Bronx absence, Pettitte can now roll the clock over and begin to shoot for a schedule that allows him some sort of normalcy.

"I'm extremely disappointed in the performance and losing this game," he said. "But yet it's behind me, and I look forward to working and getting better."

Trailing by a run, the Yankees missed a prime opportunity to regain the lead in the eighth inning. A bases-loaded situation against Tampa Bay reliever Brian Stokes yielded no runs after Robinson Cano singled and Derek Jeter reached on a fielder's choice to bring up Bobby Abreu with one out.

With Mariano Rivera warming up in the bullpen, a potential save opportunity quickly passed. Abreu tapped back to the mound and Rodriguez popped up to second base to end the inning, lobbing his bat aside in frustration over the missed opportunity.

"I felt I could have hit the ball hard," Rodriguez said. "A base hit there wins the game."

It would have been a fitting comeback in a game that featured five lead changes, especially considering the fact that New York had already rallied to tie the game in the seventh inning, chasing Devil Rays starter Jae Seo.

Jeter rapped a one-out single to right -- the 2,053rd of his career, tying him with Don Mattingly for sixth place on the team's all-time list -- and Abreu greeted reliever Ruddy Lugo with a single to right. After a two-out walk, Hideki Matsui came through with a two-run single to right.

The Yankees have now committed six errors in their first two games of the season, with Jeter making two in Thursday's loss -- a fielding miscue on Ben Zobrist in the third inning and an errant throw on Delmon Young in the sixth.

"We played sloppy," Jeter said. "I don't care who you're playing. You're not going to win too many games when you play sloppy, so we've got to tighten it up a little bit."

Even so, Torre said it's still too early to jump to conclusions.

"When you consider Derek has made [three] errors, you know darned well he's not going to hurt you defensively," Torre said. "I can't really say that I'm concerned about the defense."

Supporting Seo, who allowed five runs and 11 hits in 6 1/3 innings, the Devil Rays took a lead against the Yankees' bullpen in the sixth, which wasn't without its share of the blame for the defeat.

Elijah Dukes hit his second Major League home run off Proctor, and Carl Crawford greeted left-hander Mike Myers with a run-scoring single to center.

In all facets, Torre's club was left to shake off the missed opportunities of what was supposed to go down as much more than a 13-run contest.

"We certainly didn't play well enough to win," Torre said. "That's about as clear-cut as you can make it."

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