ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—Music blared in the Tampa Bay clubhouse and four large, flat-screen televisions mounted around a column in the middle of the room were tuned to the same in-house channel displaying the AL East standings.
The surprising Rays are on top, and the sputtering Yankees are on the bottom. No one was gloating, though.
“I want us to celebrate hard for 30 minutes postgame and then move on. I want us to dwell on a loss for no more than 30 minutes,” manager Joe Maddon said after Thursday’s 5-2 victory dumped New York into the cellar.
“Sometimes I get away from my own rule on the negative side. But I think the guys are handling this very well. It’s the confidence that’s been gained. It’s the momentum that you create. … It’s a feeling that did not exist before, so first of all, you have to nurture it and grow it, and then once you got it, you have to do everything you can to hold on to it because it can go away.”
Scott Kazmir shined in his first start since agreeing to a $28.5 million contract extension, and Akinori Iwamura and Shawn Riggans homered off Ian Kennedy to help Tampa Bay win for the seventh time in eight games.
Kazmir (2-1) allowed three singles in six scoreless innings, even though he’s still trying to regain his form after spending April on the disabled list with a left elbow strain sustained in spring training.
“I’ll take it,” said Kazmir, who also gave up three hits in six scoreless innings in his previous start against the Los Angeles Angels.
“I feel like I’m fighting myself just a little bit. The velocity is not where I want it right now. … It feels like I’m just on the verge. The next start or two, it feels like everything is going to come together.”
Tampa Bay (24-17), which started play in 1998, has been alone atop the division standings for three consecutive days for the first time. The Rays won three of four from New York and have captured six of seven series in building the best record in the AL.
The Yankees (20-22) have lost six of nine and got another shaky performance from Kennedy (0-3), recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for his sixth start of the season.
Things don’t get any easier this weekend. The Yankees head home to face Johan Santana and the crosstown rival Mets in the opener of the Subway Series on Friday night.
“You face a lot of good pitchers all year long,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s one of the best in baseball. That doesn’t mean that you can’t score runs. You’ve got to take advantage of your opportunities.”
New York, struggling with Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada on the DL, was shut out until seventh-inning RBI singles by Derek Jeter and Melky Cabrera off Gary Glover. The Yankees scored six runs in the series, only two off Rays starters.
“We’re much better than this. We can’t start blaming injuries. It’s part of the game,” outfielder Johnny Damon said. “We just have to deal with it, and we haven’t dealt with it the right way.”
Kazmir agreed Wednesday to a three-year extension through 2011, a deal with a club option that could raise the contract’s value to $39.5 million over four seasons. He walked three and struck out three in his third start since returning on May 4.
The 2007 AL strikeout champion threw 100 pitches—59 strikes—and worked out of situations with runners in scoring position in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
“He threw what, 50 fastballs in a row? And we get one hit. That’s not good,” Girardi said. “We’re a better hitting club than that. They did the things to win three out of four. We did not.”
Iwamura hit the third leadoff homer of his career in the first inning, and Riggans added a two-run shot off Kennedy that made it 4-0 in the fourth. Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton also drove in runs for the Rays with sacrifice flies.
Troy Percival pitched a perfect ninth for his 10th save in 12 opportunities.
Kennedy was sent to the minors after going 0-2 with an 8.37 ERA in six appearances, including five starts. The demotion May 4 turned out to be a short one when the right-hander didn’t allow a run in eight innings at Triple-A.
He had given up just two homers in 42 2-3 major league innings before Iwamura hit his fourth pitch of the game into the right-field seats. Riggans hit his third of the season, one pitch after Eric Hinske doubled to right.
Kennedy allowed five runs and five hits in five innings. He walked one and struck out three.
“He was OK, but he needs to do better,” Girardi said. “This is not the Ian Kennedy we all saw last year. We need to find a way to get him back there.”
LHP Kei Igawa was optioned to Triple-A to make room for Kennedy. The move left the Yankees without a left-hander in the bullpen. … Rodriguez (right quadriceps) worked out at Tropicana Field, running the bases for the first time since going on the disabled list. He’s scheduled to play in extended spring training games Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and he’s hoping to rejoin the Yankees on Tuesday. … Rays SS Jason Bartlett was scratched from the lineup to attend to a family matter. He was replaced by Ben Zobrist.