ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Elliot Johnson had a long night for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Johnson's mistakes may have been the difference in a 6-4 loss to the New York Yankees on Wednesday that cost the Rays a chance to move to within a half-game of the division lead.
Russell Martin homered and had three RBIs for the Yankees, who regained sole possession of first place in the AL East as Baltimore dropped out of a tie with New York.
It was Johnson's errant throw to home plate that led to two runs in the seventh inning, helping New York win for just the fifth time in 15 games.
"It was the play that cost us the game," Johnson said. "You never want to be in one of those situations, you never want to be that guy, but I'm a grown man, I can handle this sort of stuff."
With the game tied, 4-4, Andruw Jones and Steve Pearce singled off Matt Moore (10-9) to start the seventh before Jayson Nix moved the runners to second and third with a sacrifice bunt. Derek Jeter, facing reliever Kyle Farnsworth, hit a grounder to Johnson. With the infield playing in, the second baseman's throw was off the mark allowing pinch-runner Ichiro Suzuki and Pearce to score the decisive runs.
"We had everything set up right there," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Kyle makes a perfect pitch against Jeter, we get the play we want. There is plenty of time to make the throw and get the out. It was all there for us."
The loss in the finale of a three-game series was only the Rays' second in nine games against the Yankees at Tropicana Field this season. It left Tampa Bay 2 1-2 games out of first.
"We played and pitched well enough to win, but we didn't," Maddon said. "They're good. They took advantage of our mistakes, they won. Two out of three is not bad. I'll take it. Prior to this series, I would have signed up for it."
New York sat atop the division standings by itself for 84 consecutive days — its longest streak since 2004 — until Tuesday night's 5-2 loss dropped the Yankees into a tie with Baltimore. They moved back into first place when the Orioles lost 6-4 to Toronto.
Ben Zobrist drove in two runs for Tampa Bay, which had won four straight.
Johnson killed a Rays rally with a bunt right back to Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda (13-10) in the second inning, and he failed to catch Jeter's popup behind second base that went for a single leading off New York's three-run second inning.
"I should have made that play, too," Johnson said. "That's probably an error and I really don't think (Moore) deserves those runs."
After blowing a two-run lead, the Yankees went up 4-3 on Martin's solo homer in the sixth.
Tampa Bay quickly pulled even at 4 in the bottom of the inning on Luke Scott's first homer since July 19.
After Alex Rodriguez, who returned Monday after missing 36 games with a broken left hand, had an RBI double, Martin drove in two runs on a double that made it 3-1 in the fourth.
Evan Longoria put the Rays ahead 1-0 on an RBI single in the first inning. Tampa Bay tied it 3-all in the fifth when Zobrist hit a two-run triple.
Kuroda gave up four runs and eight hits in six innings. Moore allowed six runs and eight hits over 6 1-3 innings.
Rafael Soriano pitched the ninth for his 36th save.
NOTES: The announced crowd was just 16,711. ... It was Moore's second straight loss after a stretch of 14 starts in which he went 9-2. . . . New York held a team meeting before the game in which manager Joe Girardi said he gave an opportunity "to talk about some of the things that we're going through." ... The Yankees are not planning to use a lot of small ball to try and help their struggling offense. "We're not the 'Bronx Bunters,'" Girardi said. ... New York LHP Andy Pettitte (broken left ankle) threw 16-pitches in a simulated game and will face hitters again this weekend. ... Tampa Bay RHP Jeff Niemann (right shoulder) could pitch again before the regular season ends.