The Rays finished their nine-game, 10-day road trip with a 3-6 mark and saw their two-game lead in the American League East dwindle to one game over the second-place Red Sox, who defeated the Blue Jays, 4-3, on Sunday.
"It's not going to be easy, it's never going to be easy," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of his team's plight. "If you think you're going to float through this thing, you're wrong, we're wrong to think that. We'll go back home, regroup, we've got Boston. ... Three tough cities [on the road trip] and a lot of tough games, it happens. It just happens. Our guys are fine."
Edwin Jackson got rocked early when he surrendered a grand slam in the first inning to Alex Rodriguez. Fernando Perez answered for the Rays (88-59) in the top of the second with his first Major League home run, a three-run shot off Carl Pavano (3-1) that cut the Yankees' lead to 4-3.
"I was pretty much in protect mode and hoping he would make a mistake," Perez said. "He left one up, and I was able to get some good wood on it. I wasn't planning for all that, but it happened and that's how it works in baseball."
Jackson (11-11) negated any lift from Perez's blow when he surrendered a two-run homer to Jason Giambi in the bottom half of the second that felt like a knockout punch.
"Six runs in the first two innings were kind of hard to overcome," Maddon said. "Once they got up four, then Fernando hits the home run and you're kind of back in it, and they put another deuce up the next inning, it's kind of difficult."
Maddon opted to yank Jackson after the second, making the right-hander's outing his shortest since June 13, 2007, when he lasted just one-third of an inning against San Diego. The move paved the way for David Price to make his Major League debut in relief.
"I just didn't think [Jackson] was going to settle down," Maddon said. "Having David out there made it an easy thing to do. If this is a month ago, it's a little more difficult to do that and fry your bullpen. The September callup situation allows you to do things like that. I didn't think he was going to settle in. Like the other day in Boston, we gave him a chance to settle in and he did. I just didn't see it today."
Price allowed just two runs in 5 1/3 innings, and the Rays had chances to get back in the game, but things just did not go their way Sunday. They loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth, but Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano made a nice play going to his left on a sharply hit ball by Akinori Iwamura to end the threat. And New York center fielder Brett Gardner robbed Tampa Bay of hits with diving catches in the sixth and eighth innings.
"We did get some runners out there and we hit some balls pretty good," Maddon said. "They made some really big offensive plays today. They kind of beat us at our own game."
Derek Jeter added a solo home run off Price in the fifth to put the Yankees (79-70) up, 7-3. Damaso Marte walked Iwamura with the bases loaded in the sixth to cut New York's lead to 7-4, but the Yankees built their lead back up to four on Wilson Betemit's RBI single off Jason Hammel.
By winning, New York improved to 11-7 against Tampa Bay this season.
"The Yankees are one team that we haven't played well against this year," Maddon said. "I think that their batting order is probably the strongest in the league."
Despite the loss, the mood in the Rays' clubhouse was far from somber.
"We're trying to win every series, so whenever we don't win a series, it's disappointing," Jackson said. "But it's not to the point where we're going to hang our heads down and give up. ... We'll go out tomorrow and get ready to play the next series."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.