NEW YORK - You know the drama has gone out of a game when what is left of a crowd of 41,230 cares more about a pigeon than what is happening on the field.
But that's what happened in the eighth inning Thursday night during the second game of a doubleheader between the Devil Rays and Yankees.
The bird took off from behind second base and flew around Yankee Stadium until it landed on a seat in the upper deck. Big cheer. Almost as loud as the one that signaled the end of a day in which the Yankees stomped Tampa Bay 9-1 and 10-5.
That's 11 straight losses for the Rays, the longest streak of Lou Piniella's career as a manager and four off the team record. They also have lost 21 of their past 26.
"Did I ever dream I'd lose 11 in a row as a manager?" Piniella said. "I'm living it. I don't have to dream it."
The nightmare is all about pitching, starting pitching to be exact.
Tampa Bay hasn't had a starter last six innings since Sept.2, when Dewon Brazelton did so against the Orioles. And during the four-game sweep by the Yankees, a series in which Tampa Bay was outscored 37-12, no starter went further than four.
Thursday, Brazelton and Rob Bell combined for 42/3 innings and allowed 14 runs, 10 earned, on 16 hits with two strikeouts and two walks.
Adding to the problems: Piniella said reliever Jesus Colome might be done for the season after facing one batter in Game 2 and leaving with right shoulder pain.
But Piniella's main worry is shorter term.
"The wheels have come off," he said. "Our pitching has to be better. We're out of games before we start."
In Game 1, Brazelton, 0-5 on the road this season and 0-11 in his career, gave up four hits to start the first inning and two more in the second, balked and hit a batter as the Yankees went ahead 5-1.
In Game 2, Bell gave up five consecutive hits to start the second inning in which New York scored seven runs to take a 7-0 lead.
"Every time you go out there, you want to be the guy who turns it around and gets it done," Bell said. "I thought tonight was a good opportunity on a big stage to stop the bleeding.
"I know Mark Hendrickson wants to do it (today). I know Brazelton wanted to do it. We've got to take care of our p's and q's between starts and try to put a good product on the field."
There was some evidence of that. In Game 2, leftfielder Damian Rolls had three hits. B.J. Upton had two hits, including a home run, and the defensive play of the series when he backhanded Alex Rodriguez's grounder deep in the hole at shortstop and threw perfectly across his body for the out.
But it couldn't overcome top-notch pitching in Game 1 by Yankees starter Mike Mussina, who went eight innings and allowed four hits with six strikeouts and no walks.
Or Derek Jeter, who combined for five hits, a home run, a double and three RBIs. Or Hideki Matsui, who had four hits, two doubles and three RBIs.
Or the Yankees, 14-4 against the Rays this season, 9-0 at home and winners of 14 of their past 15 over Tampa Bay at Yankee Stadium.
"It's baseball," Upton said. "You just have to learn to deal with it. Who's to say we can't run off our next 11?"