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Yankees Lose To Rays 4-3, AL East Race Tightens

(Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

(Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — James Shields pitched eight strong innings to outlast CC Sabathia and light-hitting Chris Gimenez drove in two runs Monday, helping the Tampa Bay Rays beat the New York Yankees 4-3 and further tightening the AL East race.

The Yankees, who led by 10 games earlier this summer, had their edge cut to one game by Baltimore, which beat Toronto 4-0. The Rays moved within 2 1-2 games of New York.

Shields (13-8) and the Rays ruined the return of Alex Rodriguez. The slugger went 1 for 4 with a strikeout in his first game after being sidelined six weeks with a broken left hand.

Gimenez snapped a 3-all tie in the eighth with a two-out grounder that just made it to the outfield for a single off David Robertson (1-5).

Gimenez, recalled from the minors on Saturday and batting just .203, also had a RBI single off Sabathia in the second.

Fernando Rodney pitched the ninth for Tampa Bay, striking out Rodriguez and earning his 41st save by fanning pinch hitter Curtis Granderson with the tying run on third base. Granderson had been out since leaving Saturday’s game with tendinitis in his right hamstring.

Sabathia allowed three runs and eight hits, struck out four and walked two in seven innings.

Robertson gave up a leadoff single to Jeff Keppinger in the eighth, and it didn’t look like it would wind up hurting the Yankees when Russell Martin threw out pinch runner Rich Thompson on a close play at second. Rays manager Joe Maddon trotted out of the dugout to protest the call and was ejected after an animated discussion with second base umpire Bob Davidson.

But Tampa Bay wasn’t finished. Ryan Roberts singled and stole second before Gimenez delivered his go-ahead hit on a grounder that just got past second baseman Robinson Cano.

Rodriguez had been out since breaking his left hand on July 24, when he was hit by a pitch by Seattle’s Felix Hernandez. Manager Joe Girardi plugged him into his customary cleanup spot as the designated hitter to bolster an offense missing the injured Mark Teixeira and Granderson, who have combined to hit 57 homers.

A-Rod said before the game that was not returning to “save the day” for the struggling Yankees, but rather to be “part of a winning team.”

Rodriguez popped up in his first at-bat before singling up the middle and scoring on Raul Ibanez’s triple in the fourth. Shields retired him on a grounder in the sixth inning, and Rodney struck him out to begin the ninth.

Hitless through three innings, the Yankees broke through for three runs in the fourth. Cano got them started with a double down the right-field line, A-Rod hit a squibber that eluded shortstop Elliot Johnson for his hit and Chavez followed with a sacrifice fly to trim Tampa Bay’s lead to 2-1.

Rodriguez scored from first when Ibanez hit to a liner to right field that skipped to the wall when Ben Francisco was unable to make a diving catch. Ibanez scored, putting the ahead 3-2, when Martin hit a grounder that pulled first baseman Jeff Keppinger far enough away from the bag that the hustling Yankees catcher was able to beat out his single by sliding into first to avoid a tag.

Shields, coming off a 1-0 loss to Texas in which he allowed three hits over seven innings, settled to retire 10 of the next 11 batters before walking Derek Jeter on a 10-pitch at-bat leading off the eighth.

The Yankees threatened in the ninth when Chavez reached on an error. Pinch runner Eduardo Nunez stole second before taking third when Ibanez grounded out.

NOTES: Olympic gold medalist Tiana Madison threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The Tampa resident was part of the United States’ women’s 4×100 relay team in London. … Teixeira missed his sixth consecutive with a left calf strain. He took batting practice Monday and could return by the end of the week. “The real test is going to come when he has to run,” Girardi said. “Can he make those bursts he has to make?”

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)