Pettitte entered the game holding a 14-3 record with a 3.62 ERA in 22 career starts against Tampa Bay, but the Rays have played like a different club this year, reaching six games above .500 for the first time in franchise history. Pettitte lost for the first time at The Trop since Sept. 16, 1998.
"They're playing well," Derek Jeter said. "The biggest difference with them is, it looks like they've got a lot more confidence. We used to play them in the past a few years ago, and it looked like they waited for something bad to go wrong. Now, they have a lot of confidence and that starts with their pitching."
Indeed, Pettitte's lackluster start might not have played out much more palatably even if he had reached his intended seven-inning, two-run benchmark.
The Yankees did not manage much against Rays right-hander Matt Garza, who handcuffed New York on five hits through seven innings in a 103-pitch outing. Garza made his third career appearance and second start against the Yankees, beating them for the first time mostly by challenging them with fastballs they couldn't connect with.
"It seemed like we were late all day," Johnny Damon said. "He's been having success lately with his fastball. It just seemed like we couldn't catch up to it. It's one of those things where you think you're on him, and he's got a plus fastball. I think the board out there is a tad slower than what he was really throwing."
"The bottom line is, we didn't hit tonight," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "This is a team that, if you get ahead of them, they can't be as aggressive. That's what this team thrives on."
For the first three frames, Pettitte was on track to fulfill his usual M.O., but a more disturbing trend has popped up in his recent starts -- the inability to escape one draining inning.
This time, it came in the fourth, as the Rays peppered Pettitte for four runs on five hits, effectively ending an 81-pitch effort that gassed the veteran, leading him to later call his showing "pathetic on my part."
"It was just one of those innings I couldn't get out of," Pettitte said. "I couldn't make the pitch to get out of it. That was the game right there."
Pushed back one day by a rainout on Sunday at Detroit, Pettitte lost for the third time in four starts. Dioner Navarro put Tampa Bay on the board with a second-inning single, scoring Jonny Gomes, but Pettitte had his biggest troubles in the fourth, as he watched several hard-hit balls fly around the enclosed building.
Evan Longoria opened the inning with a double and scored on Gomes' single, and after a sacrifice bunt, a Pettitte walk drew pitching coach Dave Eiland to the mound. Jason Bartlett followed the visit by ripping a two-run triple up the gap in left-center field, and Akinori Iwamura finished off the damage by knocking Bartlett home with a single.
Pettitte was charged with five runs on eight hits, walking two and striking out five as he snapped his personal seven-start winning streak at Tropicana Field, lasting less than five innings for the first time this season. Tampa Bay added two runs in the fifth off reliever Chris Britton and another in the seventh facing Jose Veras.
"Obviously they're a good team," Pettitte said. "Everybody's a good team nowadays. They've got a lot of speed and they can do a lot of different things. They're playing extremely well right now."
New York scored its only run on Damon's RBI groundout in the eighth off Gary Glover, scoring Jose Molina, who had doubled. The loss dropped the Yankees a game below .500 at 19-20, the eighth time they have dipped below the break-even mark this season.
Damon noted that the Rays' starter on Tuesday, Edwin Jackson, features an even stronger fastball than Garza, and that the Yankees' inconsistent lineup had better show up ready to turn on a few by game time. Jackson, Damon had no doubt, was watching the Yankees struggle against Garza with some measure of interest.
"The way that they're pitching is outstanding," Damon said. "Their offense has always been pretty good. Those guys in the outfield can cover ground with the best of them. You can never have enough good players, and it seems like they're stacked with them right now."