The New York Yankees got Alex Rodriguez back from the disabled list while losing Robinson Cano to injury in their opener with the Tampa Bay Rays. In the process they lost, further tightening the AL East.
The first-place Yankees, who could have company atop division for the first time in nearly three months with another setback, will have Cano and Curtis Granderson in the starting lineup Tuesday night.
With Monday’s 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay (74-61), coupled with Baltimore’s win in Toronto, New York’s lead over the second-place Orioles shrunk to a game. The Rays, who beat the Yankees (76-58) for the 10th time in 11 games at Tropicana Field, also pulled within 2 1/2 of first place.
“We still have the lead,” said CC Sabathia, who went seven innings Monday.
That lead, however, could vanish with another loss. The Yankees, who led the East by 10 games on July 18, haven’t been tied atop the division since June 11, when Tampa Bay also had a share of the top spot.
“This is the start of September, and this is where you want to be,” said James Shields, Monday’s winning pitcher. “In spring training, we always want to be in the playoff hunt, and now here we are again.”
An unlikely player lifted the Rays to their third straight win Monday. Catcher Chris Gimenez, who was recalled from the minors on Saturday and entered the opener batting .203 with four RBIs, drove in two runs. He snapped a 3-all tie in the eighth with a two-out grounder that was just out of Cano’s reach.
Cano said he felt a twinge in his left hip on the play but is in the lineup for this game as the designated hitter.
Rodriguez went 1 for 4 Monday in his first game after being sidelined six weeks with a broken left hand. Fernando Rodney struck him out to start the ninth inning and ended the game by fanning Granderson in a pinch-hitting role to earn his 41st save and send New York to its fourth loss in five games.
“Who’s panicking? I’m not,” said Yankees captain Derek Jeter, who is 0 for 9 with three walks in three September games. “You’re going to have highs and lows, but you’re still going to have confidence.”
Granderson had been out since leaving Saturday’s game with tendinitis in his right hamstring. He leads the Yankees with 34 homers, but is batting .122 with 18 strikeouts in 13 games against the Rays this season. He is also 1 for 5 lifetime against scheduled starter Alex Cobb (8-8, 4.39 ERA).
Cobb struggled Wednesday in Texas, yielding four runs and eight hits in 4 2-3 innings, but Tampa Bay still won 8-4. That’s been common lately, with the Rays winning Cobb’s last six starts and the right-hander posting a 3.38 ERA while earning four of those decisions.
He lost his lone start of the season against the Yankees on June 6, permitting four runs in seven innings of a 4-1 final.
New York counters with Freddy Garcia (7-5, 4.90), who had his start pushed back from Saturday after going less than five innings in each of his last two outings. Against Cleveland on Aug. 26, the veteran righty gave up two runs in 4 2-3 innings in New York’s 4-2 win.
He is 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA in his last three starts versus the Rays, and Evan Longoria is 2 for 5 in career matchups.
Longoria is 7 for 14 in four games against the Yankees this season - all wins - and Jeff Keppinger is batting .545 (12 for 22) in his last six games overall.