(AP) — The New York Yankees have experienced a run of heartbreaking losses the last few days, and the Tampa Bay Rays have moved into first place in the AL East as a result.

Alone atop the division for the first time in more than a month, the Rays will try to add to the Yankees’ misery when the teams continue their three-game series Tuesday night.

In the first of seven meetings over the next 11 days, Tampa Bay (87-56) took over sole possession of the top spot in the East with a 1-0, 11-inning win Monday night. New York (87-57) fell one-half game back but still owns a seven-game lead over Boston for the wild card.

The matchup between CC Sabathia and David Price more than lived up to expectations, with both pitchers going eight innings. Sabathia struck out nine and gave up two hits. Price allowed three.

Despite each team having opportunities in the 10th, it took until the 11th when Reid Brignac hit a pinch-hit home run. Brignac replaced Carl Crawford after he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes.

“That was a good game,” said Price. “It was kind of what everybody was expecting, and that’s what they got.”

The Rays hadn’t been alone atop the division since Aug. 3, when they held a one-game lead over the Yankees.

For New York, it was another disheartening loss. Losers of seven of eight, the Yankees will try to avoid their first five-game skid since May 2-7, 2009.

The Yankees were swept over the weekend by AL West-leading Texas, including a 13-inning defeat Friday. On Saturday, the Rangers scored twice in the ninth off Mariano Rivera, who hit a batter with the bases loaded to force home the winning run.

“It’s tough, especially because we’ve lost three or four like this,” Sabathia said. “It’s been a tough road trip. We need to put this behind us. We’ve been playing tough. We’re not getting the breaks.”

New York will turn to rookie Ivan Nova (1-0, 2.92 ERA) as he makes his fifth start.

Nova pitched six innings against Baltimore on Wednesday, giving up two runs while striking out six in a 3-2 win. He didn’t factor in the decision.

“I think he’s learning and has got more confidence,” catcher Francisco Cervelli told the Yankees’ official website. “He’s going to do well. He’s going to have a long career in the big leagues.”

He’ll be opposed by Matt Garza (14-8, 3.68), who is looking for his first win against the Yankees in two years.

Garza is coming off one of his worst starts this season. He allowed six runs and matched a season high by giving up four home runs over 4 1-3 innings of an 11-5 loss to Boston on Wednesday. It was his first loss in five starts after he came in with a 0.99 ERA in the previous four.

Garza hasn’t beaten the Yankees since May 12, 2008. He’s gone 0-2 with a 3.56 ERA over seven starts since, with the Rays losing each game.

The right-hander gave up four runs and five hits – two homers – while striking out nine over seven innings of a 5-4 loss July 31. He didn’t receive a decision.

Nick Swisher is 6 for 13 with three home runs against Garza, but was out of the starting lineup Monday with a bone bruise in his left knee. Swisher grounded out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth and had a noticeable limp going toward first.

Updated September 14, 2010
45 © 2010 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.

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