ST. PETERSBURG - Paul Abbott couldn't have gotten off to a better start. But the way the game ended kept him from being too happy about what happened.
Abbott opened his first Tampa Bay start with 51/3 hitless innings against the Yankees. But the four hits he gave up in the sixth led to two runs, and eventually to a 3-2 defeat.
"It's good to get the season going and good to face that team and go out and do something like that, but when you do something like that you want to walk away with a victory," Abbott said. "So it's kind of disheartening to have an outing like that and come away with a loss on our side."
Abbott pitched with veteran poise, moving the ball around, mixing his pitches and changing speeds while barely breaking 90 mph.
"He knew what to do, and he did it very well," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "It just looked like he sort of ran out of gas."
Abbott said his problems weren't a matter of endurance, but execution. After retiring 16 of the first 18 Yankees, he allowed four straight hits, plus a two-out walk.
"Obviously that was the first real trouble I'd been in and it kind of got my adrenaline going and I got a second wind," Abbott said. "I just didn't execute the right pitches and I got in trouble and those guys capitalized."
Manager Lou Piniella liked what he saw: "He pitched well. That was the best I've seen him throw all year."
GROUND WORK: The Rays moved Aubrey Huff to third base to get more offense, specifically Robert Fick, in the lineup. Now they have to decide if Huff can play good enough defense to make it work.
Huff, who started last season at third but was moved to rightfield after three errors in seven games, made some good and bad plays Wednesday.
"I felt fine," he said.
He made one error, though it was on a ball hit to shortstop when the Rays were in a shift against lefty Jason Giambi. He made a nice play on a Gary Sheffield bouncer in the second, though his throw required a good stretch by first baseman Eduardo Perez. He just missed making a diving catch of a Derek Jeter liner in the pivotal sixth and had a little trouble making a throw to second on what could have been a double play.
Piniella said he didn't know yet when, or how often, Huff would be back at third.
"We'll see," Piniella said. "I've got to get offense into the lineup and at the same time I've got to put good defense on the field. I just don't know."
CROWD CONTROL: The announced crowd of 31,669, boosted by some heavy promotion by Checkers, was the largest for the second home game in franchise history, topping the 30,109 in 1998. The two-game total of 73,424 was shy of the 75,478 from 1998.
OUCH: Rey Sanchez was hit on the cheek by a throw during batting practice but was not seriously hurt. "I was lucky," Sanchez said. ... Right-hander Doug Waechter's blister problem is getting better and GM Chuck LaMar said he likely will miss only one start at Triple-A Durham.
STILL SWINGING: LaMar said Fred McGriff will remain on a minor-league contract in hopes of getting an offer for a big-league job.
"I think he wants to see what the next two weeks bring and if there's not an opening I think he'll make a decision on his career at that time," LaMar said.
Detroit might be a possibility with Dmitri Young sidelined 6-8 weeks with a broken leg.
MISCELLANY: Senior adviser Don Zimmer threw out the first pitch, all fans got Zimmer masks, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker proclaimed Wednesday Don Zimmer Day. ... Jose Cruz, 6-for-9 in the two games, raised his career average at Tropicana Field to .339 (42-for-124). ... Charles Gipson, designated for assignment on Monday, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Durham. ... The double play Carl Crawford grounded into in the eighth was his sixth in 907 career at-bats. ... Kevin Brown earned his 199th win.