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Shields solid, but Rays' streak ends

Shields solid, but Rays' streak ends

ST. PETERSBURG -- Sure, the winning streak is over. Still, the Rays played like a first-place team and they remained in the top spot in the American League East despite a 2-1 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field.

A partisan Rays crowd of 20,936 tried to will their newly-minted first-place team into a seventh consecutive win, and 12 straight at home, but a couple of tough outs on the bases -- and a lot of Yankees pitching -- prevented the Rays from doing so.

"It's been a nice run," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We played well again tonight. Our guy [James Shields] pitched another great game. Well played game on both sides, they just scored one more run than us. ... It's one game. Expectations are high. I'm glad everyone's upset."

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Despite the Rays' loss, they remained in first place by a half-game after the Red Sox lost to the Orioles. The last time the Rays had sole possession of first place for two straight days was April 3-4, 2002. The Rays are still 15-6 since April 22. And of those 21 games, 18 have come against teams that had winning records in 2007.

Cliff Floyd went 2-for-4 in his third start since returning from right knee surgery. But the veteran also made two critical outs on the bases.

In the third, Floyd tried to go from first to third on Dioner Navarro's single to center field. Only Melky Cabrera delivered a rope to third, which Morgan Ensberg caught, tagging Floyd.

Navarro drove home the Rays' only run with a seventh-inning single, moving Floyd into scoring position at second with one out. Monday night's hero, Gabe Gross, then strolled to the plate.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Gross' single against Mariano Rivera had scored Jonny Gomes from second base to give the Rays a 2-1 win. Facing Yankees right-hander Ross Ohlendorf, Gross again made solid contact, only Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter speared the drive and flipped to second baseman Robinson Cano, catching Floyd off the bag to end the inning.

"I definitely hit it a little harder [than Monday night's game-winner], but it found a hole last night that it didn't tonight," Gross said. "That's all you can do. The shortstop's been playing there for 130 years. Hit it somewhere else."

Both outs stemmed from nice plays made by the Yankees' defense, which offered little solace to the veteran Floyd.

"I just gotta trust my instincts," Floyd said. "Coming back from injury, you sometimes want to think about trying to score instead of letting your instincts take over. I mean, my instincts told me to get back. But the ball was right on my head, the Jeter ball.

"[On the third-inning play], I thought no way I was going to get thrown out with Melky coming in, but he has a great arm. You know, if you're not aggressive, you're not trying to win ... some tough outs. I take pride in playing the game hard and trying to make things happen. It's just unfortunate I made two outs."

Giving away two outs was particularly tough Wednesday night, given the way veteran Yankees right-hander Mike Mussina pitched. Moose allowed one run on five hits and one walk while striking out four in 6 1/3 innings to claim his sixth win of the season. In doing so, he also improved his career mark against the Rays to 18-7 with a 3.38 ERA.

"Some pitchers just feel like they can do well against other teams," Floyd said. "I think in his mind, he just feels good about facing us."

Gross felt like Mussina's edge came in his ability to throw a lot of pitches for strikes.

"You couldn't really eliminate anything he was doing," Mussina said. "He had a curveball, slider, changeup, fastball, and throwing them all for strikes. Even more than that, he was adding and subtracting a little bit off of every pitch. He tried to keep everybody off balance and did a pretty good job."

Shields made his ninth start of the season for the Rays and pitched well, allowing two runs on six hits and two walks while striking out six in 7 1/3 innings. Despite the quality start, Shields took his third loss of the season and remained winless after seven career starts against the Yankees.

"It was one of those games where you get outpitched, and I think that's the way it was," Shields said. "I felt like I pitched good enough to win, and it's just one of those games where we got beat today. And we've been on a pretty good streak, and I just wanted to keep us in the game as long as I could. I did the best I could, but I give some credit to Moose."

The postgame mood in the Rays' clubhouse appeared more sullen than those witnessed in years past.

"A 2-1 ballgame and we want to win those games," Shields said. "Of course we're going to take it hard. We've been on a good streak and playing good baseball, good fundamental baseball. Games like this are pretty tough."

Then he added: "You know we're going to bounce back tomorrow."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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