This loss against Yankees historic

YANKEES 4, Rays 1: Tampa Bay drops its 100th game to New York, which looks ready for October.

Published September 23, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Over their nine seasons, the Devil Rays seem to have lost to the Yankees a hundred times.

Friday, they actually did lose to the Yankees for the 100th time.

The 4-1 defeat was typical of many of the others, with the Rays doing some things well but more things wrong and coming up short before a Tropicana Field crowd of 26,377.

But what might be different is how well the Yankees - even by their high standards - are playing.

With a ninth straight American League East title secured and key players such as Mariano Rivera and Gary Sheffield returning Friday from injury, the Yankees seem headed for a long run into October.

"They've got a nice thing going on," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "They're playing probably better than anybody else right now - maybe Oakland's with them a little bit; they're very deep in regard to talent and experience; they're playing at a high level; and everybody's getting well for them at the right moment. They've got a lot of good stuff going on."

The Yankees (93-60) still have something to play for, seeking the best record in the American League and the postseason homefield advantage that comes with it.

Plus, shortstop Derek Jeter reached the 200-hit mark (with a bunt single) for the fifth time in his career, Robinson Cano crept closer to having enough plate appearances to qualify for the AL batting title and Sheffield rejoined the lineup for the first time since a wrist injury in May, making his first career appearance at first base and his first start in the infield since Sept. 30, 1993.

And, perhaps most important of all to the Yankees' hopes of a World Series run, Rivera returned from his forearm muscle strain to pitch for the first time since Aug. 31, allowing a leadoff single, then striking out Greg Norton (and after hitting Ty Wigginton), Dioner Navarro and B.J. Upton.

The Rays, at 58-95, are playing for something less, seeking to avoid the worst record in the major leagues (they are tied with Kansas City), and to not lose 100 games - and the ignominy that comes with that.

They tied an American League record Friday (Detroit in 2002) by losing their 57th game in which they led at some point, 14 more than any other AL team. And they blew their major-league-high 91st lead.

But James Shields, in what was likely the final start of his impressive rookie campaign, turned in a solid effort. He retired the first 10 but allowed home runs to Cano, which tied the score after Rocco Baldelli homered, and a two-run shot to Aaron Guiel that put the Yankees ahead to stay in the seventh.

"You make one mistake and this ballclub is good enough to hurt you," said Shields, who went 6-8 with a 4.84 ERA in his first 21 starts.

Otherwise, Carl Crawford stole his 55th base, extending his AL lead and closing within four of his career high; Baldelli tied the franchise career mark with his fifth leadoff homer of the season (and his eighth overall in his past 18 games and 14th of the season); and Shawn Camp set a team record by pitching in his 73rd game.

Maddon said the Rays can at least learn by watching, citing little things such as how Jeter ran out a ground ball and positions himself.

Even more so after 100 losses in 145 games over the nine seasons.

"I think when you watch them, if you're really paying attention, there's a lot to draw from them," Maddon said.