ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Lance Berkman sounded as if he were making excuses for a rough afternoon, and perhaps he was.
But digging deeper into his remarks after the Yankees lost, 3-0, to the Rays Sunday - a defeat that trimmed their AL East lead to one game over Tampa Bay - suggested a veteran player adjusting on the fly.
"I don't think I've played a meaningful game in like three years," said Berkman, 34, who began his Astros career in 1999. "I hate to put it like that, but you have to learn how to manage your emotions again. You kind of have to be in the same environment and realize, OK, it's the same game. You have to slow everything down because the tendency is for everything to speed up and to be real nervous and be real excited. It takes a little bit of being in that environment to sort of get the feel for it again."
Berkman didn't seem to do that. He failed to make at least one play at first base, and maybe two, that regular first baseman Mark Teixeira (who served as DH) typically makes, which contributed to all three runs.
The Rays' James Shields (10-9), with a devastating changeup, allowed four hits and struck out 11 in 71/3 innings. Rafael Soriano earned his 30th save.
Berkman (1-for-8 in the series) said he told close friend Andy Pettitte, "Several times over the last day and a half, I was about to burst into tears." The comment deserves some context.
"I'm thrilled to be here. It's not that," he said. "It's just when you spend that much of your career with one organization and think about all the people that you meet over there . . . it can fluster you a little bit. I'm sure in a couple weeks from now, it's not even going to be a big deal, but at first there's a lot of emotion. I'm dealing with it and I think it will be great. I wouldn't change it, but it's been a tough couple of days emotionally."
It might not be fair to say that CC Sabathia - who lost for the first time in August since 2007 - would have benefited from Teixeira's presence at first, but it wouldn't be totally unfair, either.
With two outs and a runner at second in the second, Kelly Shoppach hit a flare that just eluded Berkman, who stumbled a bit in drifting back. The ball glanced off his glove and went into rightfield, making it 1-0. "It looked worse than it was,'' he said, "because I felt like I did pretty much everything I could do."
Reid Brignac led off the third with a grounder to the right of Robinson Cano, who threw a soft one-hopper that Berkman couldn't dig out, a play Teixeira makes regularly. B.J. Upton doubled, Carl Crawford reached on an infield single to make it 2-0 and Evan Longoria hit into a double play, with a run scoring.
"He didn't get a whole lot on that throw," Berkman said. "It's a lot easier to pick a throw that's got something on it because you can get a better read. That ball kind of jumped up and had a little sidespin on it." He did make a terrific diving stop to his left in the fourth that saved at least one run and maybe two.
"I can't play him 37 out of 38 days. I'm going to break him down," Joe Girardi said of Teixeira. As for losing the series, he wasn't fazed. "It's two good teams," he said. "Like I said, this is going to go down to the wire, and we just need to go win a series when we go home."