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Rays must put tough start in the past and rebuild

ST. PETERSBURG -- This is how bad it's going for the struggling, injury-riddled Tampa Bay Rays: With his team trailing the Yankees, 4-0, in the second inning on Thursday night, with runners on first and second and nobody out, Sean Rodriguez hit into a triple play.

If ever there was a sign that these are tough times for the Rays, the triple play defined it.

And then there was David Price. After losing three straight games on the road and with three integral parts of the team's once-vaunted rotation disabled, Tampa Bay needed a strong performance from its ace. To say it wasn't the lefty's night is putting it mildly.

Price, who entered the game with a 2-0 record and a 2.91 ERA, struggled from the moment he took the mound and Jacoby Ellsbury greeted him with an infield single.

After two innings, Price was down, 4-0, and had allowed six hits. He left after five, trailing, 6-1, with the Yankees having added to their lead thanks to back-to-back homers by Alfonso Soriano and Brian McCann.

Price allowed a career-high six extra-base hits, and his five-inning stint was his second shortest against the Yanks.

The Yankees, who are atop the American League East -- the division many predicted the Rays would win -- rolled to their fifth straight victory, a 10-2 decision.

With Matt Moore scheduled for Tommy John surgery on his left elbow next week, and Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb out until at least June, the heat was on Price to stop the bleeding. But more important, an offense that has been anemic since an Opening Day victory needed to reverse its glaring lack of production.

A year ago, the Rays began the season losing 10 of their first 15, but ended with an AL Wild Card berth. With Thursday night's jarring setback, they're 7-9 and have three more games against the Yanks to complete the series.

It was mentioned to manager Joe Maddon that stumbling in the early weeks of a season complicated by injuries to three key starters and a lack of productive hitting can have a huge psychological effect.

"It probably does, I don't deny that," said Maddon. "When you have all these adverse moments, like triple plays, line drives being caught and then your best pitcher has a bad night -- it just happens sometimes.

"When you start crying about it, feeling sorry for yourself, that's when it gets more profound. For me, we just throw this game in the waste basket and come out and play tomorrow."

So often when teams suffer devastating injuries and the hitters slump, it's human nature to ratchet up the effort, to reach for a little extra.

Maybe that's the mind-set Price took to the mound, realizing that his teammates were counting heavily on him to reverse the skid. He doesn't agree.

"I've been positive," Price said 30 minutes after the game. "I get to play once a week. My job between starts is to be positive. It doesn't matter how we're playing; I try to be perfect every day out there.

"How we play, or are playing, doesn't dictate how I throw the ball. This is one start. Everybody's going to have their bad days. We didn't have a particularly good day as a team today. So be it."

Maddon put it this way: "David really didn't have the sharpness with his breaking pitch he normally does. We're getting 0-2 and 1-2 counts on hitters, and we're not putting people away, and we're giving up two-out runs."

Yankees skipper Joe Girardi said that getting off to a good start against Price was the key.

"We made him work really hard those first two innings," Girardi said. "I think he was over 40 pitches the first two innings, and when you're able to do that, sometimes guys will fatigue a little bit earlier. We just had some big hits tonight."

Tampa Bay has scored just 16 runs in its past 10 games, the fewest over a 10-game stretch since the team's inaugural season of 1998.

Said Rodriguez, whose homer in the seventh inning off winning pitcher CC Sabathia gave the Rays their second run: "It's human nature to try to find more, to try and dig yourself out of that hole you might have dug yourself into.

"It's baseball -- you're going to have your ups and downs. Sometimes you don't want to struggle altogether, but sometimes you do, and that's what's happening to us."

Evan Longoria, who had two of Tampa Bay's seven hits, said before the game, "We're hitting the ball hard, taking good at-bats. It's just not going our way right now. That's a kind of a copout. It's easy to say we're not getting the breaks and just chalk it up to that. But at a certain point, you have to make your own luck, so we have to go up there, continue to grind out good at-bats and believe that it's going to happen for us."

Now, with Erik Bedard, recently summoned from the Minors, and Cesar Ramos getting starts in two of the remaining three games against the Yanks, somebody is going to have to reverse the pattern.

"I don't want anybody trying to do more. Period," said Maddon. "I don't like the term 'stepping up.' That always indicated to me you've been holding back."

So Thursday night's debacle is in the waste basket. Now what the Rays must do its pick up the pieces and rebuild their season.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for
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