Sunday was supposed to be CC Sabathia's day to pitch. But the only CC pitching for the Yankees against the Rays was reliever Chris Capuano, whose presence in a game usually means Joe Girardi is throwing in the towel because of a large deficit.
So it was as the defensively challenged Yankees lost to the Rays, 8-1, before 35,050 at Yankee Stadium.
Instead of the struggling Sabathia -- who was moved to Wednesday -- Girardi gave the ball to Ivan Nova, who had been brilliant in his first two starts after Tommy John surgery.
Nova was not brilliant against the Rays.
"I thought he did a pretty good job for not having anything," Girardi said.
Nova allowed four runs (three earned) in five innings and committed a costly throwing error, one of three charged errors for the Yankees. Three of Tampa's runs were unearned and another could have been.
"It cost us probably five or six runs today," Girardi said of the team's defense, "and it's a much different game. It's unfortunate. We've got another week to go hard before we get a little bit of a break. I think tomorrow's probably a good day off for our guys."
The Yankees had won the previous two games in walk-off fashion, their first two walk-off wins of the season.
Held to one hit over the first five innings by righthander Erasmo Ramirez, the Yankees got a leadoff home run from Alex Rodriguez in the sixth. With All-Star reserves being announced Monday night, A-Rod's 16th homer can only help his chances of being named to the AL squad for the July 14 game in Cincinnati.
Nova (1-2), who had allowed two runs in 12 innings in his first two starts, gave up that many in the first inning Sunday.
Nova nemesis James Loney grounded a two-run single past diving second baseman Stephen Drew to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead one out into the game. Loney was 7-for-13 (.538) against Nova after the at-bat.
Loney also has a fondness for new Yankee Stadium. The first-inning single made him 45-for-108 (.417) in The House That Ruth Didn't Build.
Then the misplays began. Kevin Kiermaier led off the second with a line drive to center. Brett Gardner started in and then the ball went over his head for what was scored a triple. After a walk, Curt Casali's sacrifice fly made it 3-0.
Casali led off the fifth with a double and scored when Nova threw Asdrubal Cabrera's sacrifice bunt past Chase Headley at third base.
Catcher Brian McCann took the blame for the error. He said he initially yelled at Nova to throw to first and then yelled at him to throw to third.
"By the time I said third, it was too late," McCann said.
To Nova's credit, he got out of the inning without further damage, including getting Loney to pop to right with runners on first and second for the second out. Nova finished having allowed six hits with three walks and one strikeout. "I think I got lucky that I only gave up four runs," he said.
Ramirez (7-3) allowed one run and three hits with three walks and three strikeouts in six innings. Trailing 4-1, the Yankees had runners in scoring position in the sixth and seventh, but were unable to conjure up the same late-inning magic as on Friday and Saturday.
Jose Pirela's double error (a boot and a bad throw) on the same grounder and Logan Forsythe's bloop two-run single off Bryan Mitchell in the eighth gave Tampa Bay a 6-1 advantage. Capuano later walked in a run and allowed a sacrifice fly to cap Tampa Bay's four-run inning.