The New York Yankees had been sizzling. Suddenly, they’ve lost consecutive games for the first time this month.
The Yankees try to avoid dropping their third - and possibly fourth - game in a row Saturday when their home series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays continues with a day-night doubleheader.
New York (48-46) came out of last week’s All-Star break hot, winning six of seven and beating Toronto 6-1 on Wednesday for their fifth victory in a row. With the run, the Yankees trimmed their AL East deficit to Boston - once as big as 14 1/2 games - to seven.
The Yankees, however, lost their series finale with the Blue Jays 3-2 on Thursday, then got routed 14-4 by the Devil Rays (38-57) on Friday night in the opener of this four-game set. The Red Sox beat the Chicago White Sox on Friday, pushing New York’s deficit in the division to eight.
B.J. Upton had his first career two-homer game for Tampa Bay, Dioner Navarro added a grand slam and every Devil Rays starter reached base. The 14 runs were the most scored by the Rays since a 19-6 win at Yankee Stadium on July 29.
Tampa Bay opened its seven-game road trip on a positive note by earning its third win in four games overall.
The Yankees, meanwhile, allowed their highest run total since a 14-2 defeat to Texas on May 10. Mike Mussina gave up six runs in 4 2-3 innings Friday to suffer the loss.
“Every once in a while you get it handed to you,” Mussina said. “Obviously I didn’t pitch very well and we were kind of flat.”
Plenty more scoring could be in order Saturday, when all four scheduled starting pitchers have an ERA of 5.87 or higher. Kei Igawa (2-2, 6.97 ERA) may need a strong start in the opener to remain in New York’s rotation, as right-handers Jeff Karstens (right elbow) and Phil Hughes (left hamstring) are on their way back from injuries.
Igawa struggled through five innings Monday against Toronto, giving up three runs and seven hits while walking four and throwing 115 pitches. He did not earn a decision in the Yankees’ 6-4 victory.
Since being recalled June 22 after a stint in the minors, the Japanese rookie left-hander is 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA in four starts. His first major league loss came at Tampa Bay on April 23, when he yielded seven runs and eight hits - two homers - in 4 1-3 innings of a 10-8 defeat.
Jason Hammel (1-0, 6.11) will make his first start of the year for the Devil Rays in the first game. The right-hander, 0-6 with a 7.77 ERA in nine starts last season, has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in 2007. He had a pair of scoreless outings totaling one inning in last week’s series with the Yankees at Tropicana Field.
Hammel fared poorly in a start against New York on Sept. 13, suffering the loss after surrendering six runs, six hits - two homers - and three walks in 4 2-3 innings.
The Yankees will summon rookie right-hander Matt DeSalvo (1-3, 5.87) from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to start the nightcap, his first appearance in the major leagues since June 4. He lasted only 1 1-3 innings in that outing against the Chicago White Sox, allowing three runs, four hits and a walk to suffer a 6-4 defeat.
After beginning his major league career with consecutive quality starts in May, DeSalvo is 0-3 with a 11.57 ERA in three starts and one relief appearance.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, will call up J.P. Howell (1-3, 6.62) from the minors to pitch the night game. The left-hander recorded only two outs in his last start July 5 at Boston, giving up six runs, six hits and two walks in a 15-4 defeat. It was the shortest of his 30 starts over three seasons.
Howell, though, had one of the best outings of his career Sept. 23 against the Yankees, allowing three hits in seven innings to earn an 8-0 victory at Tropicana Field.
This is only the 12th doubleheader in franchise history for the Devil Rays, who will have played four of those twinbills at Yankee Stadium.
“Split doubleheader, I think, is a horrible concept, but I guess that’s based on attendance and everything else,” manager Joe Maddon told the Devil Rays’ official Web site. “It keeps everyone there from nine o’clock in the morning until midnight when you play the next day. It’s a difficult moment, but that’s the way it’s drawn up so we’re going to do it.”