Sabathia had trouble commanding his fastball and paid for it all night as the Rays took advantage. With Scott Kazmir looking sharp on the opposite side, the Yankees couldn't bail their ace out and fell, 6-2, on Tuesday at Tropicana Field.
"It was horrible," Sabathia said. "This team is too good for me to not even give us a chance. This is definitely frustrating. We've been playing well, but you want to continue to play well. These are games in our division that we need to win."
Sabathia is 2-2 in his past four starts, but he has been dissatisfied in some measure with all of those outings since a strong performance on July 7 vs. Minnesota, complaining about leaving his pitches up in the strike zone too much.
But not all of the damage has showed up in the box score.
Said Sabathia: "I've been getting away with a lot of things, but today was one of those bad nights where I got into bad counts and got behind, and it hurt."
This outing against the Rays was the toughest, as Sabathia was roughed up for six runs (five earned) on nine hits over 5 2/3 innings. On a night when the Yankees officially learned that Chien-Ming Wang would not return to their rotation in 2009, there was some room for concern.
While Sabathia is tied with A.J. Burnett for the team lead in wins with 10 and has compiled a 3.83 ERA in his maiden season after signing a $161 million contract, the club is just 11-11 in his starts.
Perhaps more importantly, Sabathia is 0-2 with a 6.10 ERA in three starts against the rivals the Yankees outbid the world for in the hopes that he would beat -- the Rays and Red Sox.
"We could have won a lot of the games that he's pitched, but we haven't," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's matched up against guys that have thrown very well against us. But he's throwing the ball good for us and that's my concern."
Sabathia also didn't get much help on Tuesday from his defense. Derek Jeter made a second-inning error that led to a Tampa Bay run, and Alex Rodriguez threw a third-inning ground ball into the seats behind first base, allowing another run to score.
"That's just part of the game," Sabathia said. "I'm going to have those games, and that's when I need to step it up and get outs."
The big hits were highlighted by Carl Crawford's RBI triple in the third inning and Evan Longoria's fifth-inning solo homer, as the Yankees suffered just their second loss in 12 games coming out of the All-Star break.
"We've been playing so well lately that we've expected to win every night," Mark Teixeira said. "A game like this, you've just got to realize that you're not going to win them all."
Tampa Bay padded the advantage in the seventh, when Jason Bartlett blooped an RBI single off Teixeira's glove, and Nick Swisher couldn't corral a run-scoring B.J. Upton double near the right-field bullpen.
Girardi complimented the Rays' defense and Kazmir's pitching, but he summed up the night in saying, "We just didn't play a very good game."
The Yankees were stifled by Kazmir, who limited the damage to one run on five hits over a season-high seven-plus innings in snapping a personal seven-start winless streak, which included being on the losing end of White Sox hurler Mark Buehrle's perfect game in his previous effort.
"It's kind of huge to pick us up, because we got our butts kicked last night, and we all felt that in the clubhouse after the game," Kazmir said. "We wanted to go out there and set the tone early, get a couple of runs, and throughout the whole game, that's what we did."
New York scored its only run off Kazmir in the fifth inning, when Teixeira popped a bloop double into shallow right field and scored on Hideki Matsui's one-out single to right -- a play that ended with Matsui being tagged out at first base on a snap throw by catcher Dioner Navarro.
"He was very good -- we give him a lot of credit," Teixeira said. "He can throw his fastball hard, locating it, and mixed in his offspeed pitches when he had to."
Rookie Mark Melancon provided a bright spot for the Yankees, summoned into a game for the first time since July 10. Melancon retired seven of the eight batters he faced in relief of Sabathia.
The Yankees scored their final run in the ninth inning off former Bomber Randy Choate, as Rodriguez singled and later scored on an RBI single by Matsui.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.