After falling behind by five runs, the Rays knocked out the New York starter, literally, and waged a courageous comeback to tie the game but an eighth-inning pinch homer by Robinson Cano off Al Reyes (1-2) was the difference maker in a 8-7 loss before a disappointing crowd of 18,872.
"We made too many mental mistakes tonight," said Rays' skipper Joe Maddon. "That's the bad part about tonight's game. The good part is that we fought back. I love the fight and enthusiasm and grit among our group but we have to stop making the mental mistakes that do not permit us to win games like tonight. That's what I'm most upset about."
There was a sense of deja vu as starter Andy Sonnanstine reminded some fans of a game almost forgotten, Ryan Rupe's big league debut where he gave up just four hits - all homers (five runs total) against Kansas City on May 5, 1999.
The 25-year old threw just 13-pitches and three balls had disappeared out of the playing field with Jonny Damon leading off the game with his first of the year. Alex Rodriguez added his third later in the frame.
In an ironic twist, Damon hit a round-tripper off Rupe in that contest.
In the second Morgan Ensberg blasted the first pitch he saw leading off inning two and faster than you can say Bronx Bombers, it was 3-0.
"Sonny got away from his game plan tonight," said Maddon. "When he stays aggressive and uses his fastball he's good. He was trying to trick them a little too much. We did a lot of things today that were inappropriate. But I'm pleased with the effort."
Sonnanstine was finally successful in keeping the ball in the park only the strikes he threw were hitting Yankees' bats in increasing numbers as four more crossed the plate in the fourth before the Rays' righty was lifted with two outs.
Damon added RBI number two and three with a double and Derek Jeter, who missed the last six games with a strained left upper quad injury, singled home another pair.
Ian Kennedy, who started the game with a bloated 13.50 ERA for the Yankees, was touched up for solo runs in the third, a sac fly by Carl Crawford, and fourth, Eric Hinske's ground's rule double, but was otherwise solid.
"When you start the season off the wrong foot it gets you frustrated," said Kennedy about needing a good game like tonight. "With the rain and all the odd stuff I just wanted to get out there and today I was kind of on a mission. Just go right after the guys. Get strike one, get strike two then put them away. They're real aggressive but I was real excited to go out there and pitch my game."
Entering the seventh, the highly touted 23-year old had allowed seven hits and the two runs but had to be lifted when he was felled by a line drive off the bat of Jason Bartlett that hit him in the side. He stranded six Rays' runners before his departure.
Once Kennedy was out, lefty Billy Traber took over and got the first batter he faced only to serve up a two-run blast to Carl Crawford to make it 7-4. Traber clipped the next batter, Carlos Pena, and his night was also done.
On came Brian Bruney and BJ Upton took him downtown, his second of the year, and suddenly it was a four-run inning and a one run contest.
As if magic had suddenly filled the air, rookie Evan Longoria ran the count full before depositing his first career homer to knot the game.
That was the first time the Rays had gone back-to-back this season.
"I'm not surprised," Maddon said. "The young man's got tremendous hands. I like the ball he drove to right-central as well. There are very few righties that drive the ball to that part of the ballpark."
The 4th inning double was his first ever extra-base hit.
The euphoria of the comeback ended in the eighth when Cano took Reyes downtown for a solo homer and New York had their lead back. It was a change that the right-hander left up.
It was the seventh round-tripper of the game and it snapped a 7-7 tie.
After recording the first two outs in the home eighth, Yankees skipper Joe Girardi hooked Bruney in favor of closer Mariano Rivers for what would be a four out save and he came through notching his fourth save of 2008.
>>The three homers by Tampa Bay in the seventh tied a club record
>> The combined seven homers is the most at Tropicana Field since July 6, 2006 against Boston (Sox hit four, Rays three)
>> Scott Dohmann hurled 3.2 innings, a career best. It is also the longest relief appearance by a Rays hurler without allowing a run since Gary Glover turned the trick last May 17
>> Since 2003, Carl Crawford has the most hits against the Yankees with 114 after his two tonight
>> Eric Hinske leads all Rays hitters with a .323 average
>> Sonnanstine threw 62 pitches, 45 for strikes, Kennedy was 94/60
>> Kennedy's ERA fell to 8.74 while Sonnanstine's jumped from 6.00 to 8.80
>> The save by Mariano Rivera was the 447th of his career
>> Damon's leadoff homer was the 23rd of his career
>> The pinch-HR for Cano was the second of his career
>> In Rupe's game, John Flaherty homered for the "Devil" Rays and the former catcher was in the Yankees' booth calling the game for the YES Network. Flaherty was also guest on the Rays radio pregame show
PLAYING FIRST, #42, PLAYING SECOND, #42....: The Rays will celebrate Jackie Robinson Day with all players donning the retired number. Maddon says he likes the idea and said it was the idea of reliever Al Reyes. It was put to a vote and approved unanimously. Last year only one Ray wore the number, Carl Crawford.
I WANT TO THANK ......: Elliot Johnson was named the recipient of the 2008 Al Lopez Award given annually to the Rays' top rookie during spring training. He received the award prior to Monday's game. Previous winners are: Dan Wheeler (2000), Brent Abernathy (2001), Steve Kent (2002), Rocco Baldelli (2003), Chad Gaudin (2004), Scott Kazmir (2005), Elijah Dukes (2006) and last year Shawn Riggans.
BULLY FOR YOU: During tomorrow's lunch with players and coaches, Durham Bulls General Manager Mike Birling and Tampa Bay Rays Director of Minor League Operations Mitch Lukevics will make an announcement regarding future relations between the two teams.
YO, BRO: With his home run in yesterday's game, BJ Upton joined his brother Justin as only the second pair of brothers, each under the age of 24, to homer within their team's first dozen games. The Alomars turned the trick in 1990 with Roberto, for San Diego, and Sandy for Cleveland. Roberto was with the Rays in 2005 spring training but retired after the first Grapefruit League game.
OUCH: With nine players on the disabled list, it is the most ever for a Rays' team.
YANKEE DOODLES: New York will remember the late Elston Howard as he made his major league debut on this day in 1955. The former 9-time All Star won the league's MVP honor in 1963 and was the first black player in franchise history ..... Reliever Joba Chamberlain is not with the team as he is home with his ailing father, who is in critical but stable condition ..... According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 43 total runs scored in their first 13-games are the fewest through as many game to start a season since 1984 when they also tallied 43 ..... Jonny Damon stole two bases in Sunday's game against the Red Sox, the first two swipes by a Yankee this season. Before that, opponents held a 15-0 advantage ..... Four members of the Yankees will wear Jackie Robinson's #42 Tuesday to celebrate the legend's big league debut. Manager Joe Girardi, SS Derek Jeter and 2B Robinson Cano will do the honors for the Bronx Bombers while closer Mariano Rivera is the last major leaguer to wear it each game ..... The Yanks have the third best bullpen in the AL with a combined 3.09 ERA entering this series. They are fourth in the bigs ..... Kyle Farnsworth celebrated his 32nd birthday Monday ..... The Yankees announced that they have recalled pitcher Jonathan Albaladejo and purchased the contract of catcher Chad Moeller from the same team.
MINOR MATTERS (Organizational Record: 15-28, .349)
DURHAM (5-7): The Bulls blanked the Scranton W/B Yankees 2-0 Sunday behind Kevin Lynn's 4.2 scoreless innings and Grant Balfour's three. Fernando Perez was 1-3 with a double driving in both of Durham's runs.
Today, an eight-run second inning for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees doomed the Bulls on Education Day at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, as the Bulls lost the series finale Monday by a score of 9-1.
Bulls starter Mitch Talbot (0-2) got the side out in order in the first, but gave up eight earned runs on eight hits and two walks in his second and final inning. Ben Hendrickson, Scott Munter and Dale Thayer combined for seven innings of one-run relief, but the Bulls managed only four hits and a run on a Joel Guzman single in the first and could not muster a comeback.
Shelley Duncan continued to batter the Bulls, going 3-for-4 on the day with two batted in, a run scored and a walk. He batted .412 with two home runs and four runs batted in throughout the series, recording a .500 on-base percentage and a .882 slugging percentage. Only Justin Christian failed to get a hit for the Yankees on the day. Scott Strickland (1-0) got the win in relief.
The Bulls will host the Columbus Clippers, Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, for four games starting Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Right-hander J.K. Ryu (0-1, 6.75) takes the mound for Durham after a five-day stint in the major leagues with Tampa Bay. Columbus will counter with righty Collin Balester (1-1, 2.61).
MONTGOMERY (3-7): The Biscuits absorbed their third loss in a row Sunday falling to the Mudcats 9-2. Lefty Mike Wlodarczyk dropped his first game of the year as he was tagged for 5 runs and 8 hits over 4.1 innings. Sergio Pedroza was 2-4 in the loss and is second in the Southern League with 13 hits. Erold Andrus belted a homer in the contest.
VERO BEACH (3-7): Did not play
COLUMBUS (4-7): The Sand Gnats dropped the Catfish 11-7 despite Jeremy Halls solid five innings allowing just two runs. Emeel Salem stole his league best 9th base and scored his 11th run, which ties him for the league league in that department.