ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – That big lead in the AL East is gone.
The New York Yankees are in a free-fall that's seen them blow a 10-game cushion over the past 47 days.
"We're scuffling a little bit, but hopefully be able to break out of it tomorrow," Derek Jeter said Tuesday night after a 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays dropped the Yankees into a tie for first place with surging Baltimore.
New York had been sitting atop the division standings by itself for 84 consecutive days — its longest streak since 2004.
"Nothing changes. We play everybody. How many games do we have left?" Jeter said. "Win all of them, we're good, right? We don't have to worry about anybody else. We still have games left. We've got to find ways to win, that's the bottom line. Nothing's changed. You hope you have that one game where it seems to snowball from there."
The frustration, however, has started to show: Yankees manager Joe Girardi was ejected by plate umpire Tony Randazzo in the fourth inning for arguing after Chris Dickerson was called out on strikes.
Evan Longoria hit a go-ahead homer and Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton also connected for the third-place Rays, who have won four straight to pull within 1½ games of the Orioles and Yankees. Tampa Bay, which has made the playoffs three of the past four seasons — twice as division champions — trailed by 10½ games at the end of play on July 18.
New York opened its largest lead of the year that day (10 games) but is 19-26 since. The Yankees' biggest cushion in a season in which they failed to finish first was six games in 1933, according to STATS LLC.
Since divisional play began in 1969, New York has advanced to the postseason each of the last 15 times it has been in first place at the start of September.
"The team is not playing good right now, but we've just got to forget about this game and just go out there and play hard tomorrow," Robinson Cano said. "We're tied. It's time to start at zero. Just keep playing hard, and forget about what happened the past few weeks. Just focus on the game."
Longoria hit a two-run shot off Freddy Garcia (7-6), wiping out a 2-1 deficit in the third inning. Jennings and Upton delivered back-to-back solo shots in the fifth, giving Alex Cobb (9-8) and Tampa Bay's bullpen all the offensive support they'd need against the Yankees' sputtering lineup.
The Rays improved to 7-1 at home against the Yankees this season before a crowd of just 17,652 — down from 28,585 the previous day. They have won 11 of 12 between the teams at Tropicana Field dating to July 2011.
"We said from the start of spring training this is how it was going to be," Upton said.
"A lot of people on our side kind of wrote it off when we were 10½ games out, but I've been around long enough to know that this is a long season. A lot of things can happen, especially with the second wild card in place," the Tampa Bay center fielder added. "So we kept our heads up and we're playing good baseball. We find ourselves a game and a half out in September. There's still a long way to go, a pretty tough schedule. We know what's ahead of us."
Cano matched a career high for New York with his 29th homer, a two-run shot off Cobb, who allowed four hits over seven innings. Fernando Rodney earned his major league-best 42nd save in 44 opportunities.
The Yankees, who have lost five of six, finished with six hits. It was the fifth consecutive games they've been held to six or fewer — their longest such stretch since going six straight from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, 1990.
It appeared Dickerson wanted timeout in the fourth, but Randazzo did not grant it and Dickerson went down looking to end the inning. Dickerson didn't seem to like the call and moments later Girardi came storming out of the dugout, yanked his cap off his head and argued face-to-face with Randazzo.
Before heading back to the dugout, Girardi kicked dirt in the batter's box.
"Dickerson didn't call timeout. Dickerson thought it was ball three," Girardi said, declining to comment further.
Alex Rodriguez went 1 for 4 with a ninth-inning infield hit in his second game since spending six weeks on the disabled list with a broken left hand. Curtis Granderson returned to the starting lineup after sitting out most of two games with a sore right hamstring and went 0 for 3.
Cano played despite experiencing tightness in his left hip reaching for a grounder that got past him for the game-deciding hit during the eighth inning of Monday's 4-3 loss to the Rays. He got treatment following the game and again early Tuesday before Girardi penciled him into the lineup.
Jennings and Upton homered five pitches apart to begin the fifth. Upton, who hit a solo shot off CC Sabathia in Monday's series opener, also doubled on a 3-0 pitch to drive in Tampa Bay's first run of the night.
Garcia allowed five runs and five hits in 5 1-3 innings. The loss was the right-hander's first since July 30.
NOTES: Cano has 22 homers and 84 RBIs in 130 career games against Tampa Bay. ... Longoria started at DH rather than his customary spot at third base as manager Joe Maddon continues to be careful with the hamstring injury that sidelined the three-time All-Star for 85 games. ... Yankees LHP Andy Pettitte is set to throw to hitters Wednesday for the first time since breaking his left ankle in June and being placed on the 60-day disabled list. ... New York 1B Mark Teixeira, sidelined the past seven games with a strained left calf, took batting practice and ran on a treadmill. He might field some grounders Wednesday and could return to the lineup as soon as Thursday, when the team begins a four-game series at Baltimore.