Yankees lose to Rays after leading 3-0

Tampa Bay's Elliot Johnson slides into Yankees catcher Tampa Bay's Elliot Johnson slides into Yankees catcher Russell Martin, knocking the ball free to score on a single by B.J. Upton during the third inning. (July 3, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- And you thought Russell Martin's season couldn't get much worse.

The catcher's struggles at the plate are well documented, but Joe Girardi has made it clear his job is secure because of the usually standout work he does behind it. Martin didn't do the job on defense Tuesday night, charged with a tough error that led to three unearned runs in the Yankees' 7-4 loss to the Rays.

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Martin also had a throwing error in the two-run seventh that made it 7-4, but both runs were earned. "This one's definitely a tough one for me,'' he said. "I felt like this is pretty much my loss. I feel like if I make that play in the third inning, it's a different ballgame.''

Somewhat appropriately, Martin struck out to end the game. His 0-for-4 extended his most recent slump to 0-for-23 and dropped him to .182.

His first miscue occurred with the Yankees leading 3-0. With one out, Elliot Johnson singled and stole second. Desmond Jennings walked and, with two outs, B.J. Upton singled to left.

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Dewayne Wise fired a one-hopper to Martin, who caught a short hop and tagged Johnson. Umpire Sam Holbrook punched out Johnson but signaled safe when Martin dropped the ball. The play initially was scored an RBI single for Upton, who took second on the throw home.

It was a critical sequence because Jeff Keppinger followed with a line-drive single to center that tied it at 3.

"No excuse,'' Martin said. "If you catch the ball cleanly and it's in your glove, it should stay in there. I've made that play tons of times before. I'm not used to not making it.''

It was changed to an error after the inning, making the three runs unearned. Yet to blame the loss entirely, or even mostly, on Martin would be wrong. The Yankees, who lost at Tropicana Field for the ninth straight time, made three errors. Robinson Cano lost track of how many outs there were in the first inning, and the Yankees had the potential tying run thrown out at the plate in the sixth.

In Monday's 4-3 loss, the deciding run scored on Mark Teixeira's first error of the season. Girardi was more irritated that in the nine straight defeats here, they led in six. "We have to find a way to hold a lead,'' he said.

That fell on Ivan Nova, coming off a June in which he was 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA. But he allowed six runs (three earned) and seven hits in six innings. "I didn't have a good fastball command today,'' Nova said. "But I can't use that as an excuse. I just got hit.''

After the three unearned runs, the Yankees regained the lead in the fourth against James Shields, who allowed four runs and 10 hits in seven innings.

Eric Chavez brought in Raul Ibañez, who doubled, to make it 4-3, on an aggressive send by coach Rob Thomson. Nova could not hold the lead, giving up a monstrous two-run homer to Sean Rodriguez in the bottom half to make it 5-4.

Cano's single in the first gave him at least one RBI in seven straight games. He led off the sixth with a single. With one out, Ibañez doubled down the rightfield line. Thomson waved Cano around and second baseman Rodriguez made a strong throw to Jose Molina, who tagged out the sliding Cano on a bang-bang play.

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"Got a little bit too aggressive and it seemed to take the wind out of our sails at the time,'' Thomson said. "A poor decision all the way around.''

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