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Yankees fall to Rays again

By Pete Caldera, The Record (Hackensack N.J.) –

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — He wore a pinstriped Yankees jersey and a Tampa Bay cap. And for a few minutes, this middle-aged fan — seated in the right field bleachers at Tropicana Field — was as big a pain to the Yanks as anyone in the Rays lineup.

The fan in the mixed uniform garb reached over the fence and caught the ball, thus preventing right fielder Nick Swisher from potentially grabbing Evan Longoria’s deep seventh-inning drive.

Swisher instantly protested and the umpires reversed their original call of a two-run homer. But that was just a brief reprieve on a bad Saturday night for the Yanks.

The Rays took an 8-6 victory before a sellout crowd of 34,078, beating Hiroki Kuroda in his first Yankee start.

Now, it’s up to Phil Hughes to help prevent the Yanks from an 0-3 start to the season. The right-hander starts today’s series finale against Jeremy Hellickson, last year’s AL Rookie of the Year.

Kuroda yielded six runs (four earned) in 5 2/3 innings; Rays lefty David Price gave up two runs on five hits and four walks in 6 1/3 innings.

Swisher had a three-run homer in a four-run ninth as the Yankees threatened. RBI singles by Andruw Jones and Eduardo Nunez had cut the Rays’ lead to 4-2 in the fourth, but Kuroda was finally undone in the sixth.

Ben Zobrist and Luke Scott (3 RBI) began the inning with back-to-back doubles, and Desmond Jennings’ RBI single gave the Rays a 6-2 lead and ended Kuroda’s night. Clay Rapada entered and ended the inning without a pitch, as his pickoff throw resulted in a rundown where Reid Brignac was nailed as he dove back to third base. But Rapada wasn’t so lucky in the seventh.

After Longoria’s “two-run homer” to right was reversed on video replay review, the umpires placed him on second base with a double. Matt Joyce followed by dunking a two-run single to left for an 8-2 lead.

The Yanks had second and third with none out in the eighth. But Alex Rodriguez fouled out and Mark Teixeira had a potential two-run single thwarted by manager Joe Maddon’s shift.

Positioned in shallow right field, second baseman Jeff Keppinger snared Teixeira’s liner and threw to second to complete the double play.

Before the game, Girardi seemed eager to see how Kuroda would match up against a potent and plucky division rival.

“Obviously this is a good-hitting fastball club, and he’s got three or four other weapons he can go to besides his fastball,” Girardi said. “Being ahead in the count is important and using his split and trying to expand with it is important as well.”

The Rays would score in each of the first three innings – though the two runs in the first were unearned.

With Derek Jeter starting at designated hitter, shortstop Nunez couldn’t handle Jennings’ leadoff grounder. And after a pair of two-out walks on full-count pitches, Scott laced a two-run single to center.

Rays opening day hero Carlos Pena delivered a two-out RBI single in the second and Matt Joyce’s third-inning leadoff homer gave Tampa Bay a fast 4-0 lead.

Kuroda used two double play groundballs — one by the dangerous Longoria — to get him through the fifth inning.

“I think you pretty much know what you’re going to get every time he goes out there,” said Girardi, who likened Kuroda’s consistency to that of No. 5 starter Freddy Garcia. “Part of that is because he has a pretty good track record, like Freddy.

“You know he knows how to compete. You don’t stick around this long if you don’t know how to pitch.”

Even before camp began, Girardi had designated Kuroda as his No. 2 starter.

Many expected Michael Pineda would automatically ride shotgun with ace CC Sabathia once the trade with Seattle was complete, but the Yankees’ idea was to ease the 23-year-old right-hander into the New York spotlight.

Kuroda’s presence allowed that.

“One of the reasons we put him there was because of his experience,” Girardi said. “We feel good about him.”

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