Lost opportunity for Yankees

Yanks foiled in their efforts to sweep

ST. PETERSBURG -- Darrell Rasner had already dressed for the Yankees' cross-country flight when he rolled his luggage to Ivan Rodriguez's chair, sidling up to the catcher to break down what went wrong hours earlier.

Rodriguez closed the conversation with a reassuring slap to the pitcher's right thigh, but there is no guarantee they'll be working together in five days. Rasner recorded only four outs on Thursday, as the Yankees fell down early in a 7-5 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field.

Held to one hit through six innings by Tampa Bay left-hander Scott Kazmir, New York needed a five-run ninth inning just to make the final score respectable. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez hit back-to-back home runs in the frame, but the late fireworks weren't enough to pull off a massive rescue.

"We had a chance to sweep them," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "That would have been big for us, but we didn't and you have to move on. We have a long flight."

It could be twice as long for Rasner, who was rapped for five runs and endured the shortest non-injury start of his career. The Rays sent 10 men to the plate in the second inning, and five of the seven batters whom Rasner faced in the frame came around to score as Tampa Bay was staked to a 5-0 lead after two innings.

"I couldn't get anything going from the get-go," Rasner said. "It was a struggle. I was throwing underneath my pitches. I'm ashamed of what I did tonight, because it's embarrassing."

Tagged with the loss, Rasner allowed six hits, walking two and striking out one. Since his last win on July 12, Rasner is 0-3 with a 6.16 ERA, and he would appear to be a prime candidate to be removed from the rotation for a second time this season.

His next turn would come on Tuesday against the Angels, a team the Yankees have already shuffled the deck once this season for him to avoid. Girardi waved off the question, saying only, "We'll get to that." If that is the decision the club makes, Rasner said he would respect it.

"I just want to help this team, and tonight, for sure, I didn't do that," Rasner said.

On a night when Willy Aybar homered and drove in three, the Yankees had nothing of the sort cooking against Kazmir. Effectively wild, Kazmir walked five and struck out seven in a 98-pitch outing.

"Kazmir has been tough on us all year, and he shut us down for six innings," Girardi said. "That makes it difficult. We had a few opportunities, not a lot, and we weren't able to capitalize."

Though Kazmir threw just 56 of his pitches for strikes, the only hit he surrendered was Cody Ransom's soft double to right field leading off the fifth, dropping in front of a sliding Gabe Gross.

"We've been able to get to him in the past, even when he had a lead," Johnny Damon said. "Tonight, he was definitely on. We did not hit a ball hard off him. Our first hard-hit ball was [Xavier] Nady's in the eighth inning, so those guys had it going on."

With Rasner out early, Alfredo Aceves -- a 25-year-old Mexican League product -- was asked to step up and take a bullet for the bullpen. He did an "outstanding job," according to Girardi, serving up only a full-count home run to Aybar in the fourth, offering five innings of five-hit ball while walking two and striking out four.

Should the Yankees bump Rasner to long relief, it is possible they would consider inserting Aceves for what would be his first big league start. He said his only focus is to help the team whenever he pitches.

"I don't care if I start or I don't start," Aceves said. "It doesn't matter in what situation. I'm going to do the best that I can to hold these guys and to win, to make those playoffs."

Ransom -- a journeyman starting only his second game in the Majors this season -- logged New York's only two hits through seven innings and drove in the club's first run, as the Yankees' lineup was glaringly without the services of two key veterans.

Bobby Abreu was a late scratch after jamming his left wrist on Wednesday, leaving him unable to take batting practice. That prompted the Yankees to call down to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for Opening Day center fielder Melky Cabrera, who will join the club as a September reinforcement.

Hideki Matsui was out of the starting lineup after serving 15 consecutive games as New York's designated hitter since being reinstated from the disabled list on Aug. 19. Called upon to pinch-hit in the ninth, he struck out for Brett Gardner.

The Yankees made the final score close with five runs in the ninth inning against Rays reliever Jason Hammel. Ransom drilled his third hit of the game to break up the shutout, and Jeter connected on a three-run homer, his ninth. Alex Rodriguez followed by teeing off on his 31st of the season and the 550th of his career, a towering shot that clipped the C-ring catwalk in left field.

Even with the loss, the Yankees have won three of the first four games on a 10-game, four-city trek that Girardi has called "the biggest trip of the season." New York opens a three-game series on Friday in Seattle before traveling to Anaheim for three more contests with the Angels.

"It's almost like college," A-Rod said. "Double elimination or we go home. There has to be our approach -- urgent. Every game could be our last."

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