ST. PETERSBURG -- The Yankees have run out of ways to explain their season-long difficulties in scoring runs. The numbers aren't matching up to the backs of the baseball cards, and the time for excuses has expired. They need production, and they need it urgently.
One-hundred twenty games are already in the books, and the challenge is to flip the script at a time when their games are being played opposite preseason football. Otherwise, too many nights like Friday's 5-0 loss to the Rays will soon seal the Yankees' fate of another dark October.
"We're running out of time," outfielder Brett Gardner said. "Every day that goes by and we don't win, it makes us one step closer to being home at the end of September. That's obviously not what we want to do."
The Yankees lost their fifth straight game, this time as Alex Cobb handcuffed their lineup to six hits over 7 1/3 innings, helping the Rays bubble back to the .500 mark for the first time since April 22. It was the Yanks' fifth shutout loss of the year.
Hitting coach Kevin Long said that he senses that "morale is down a little bit" in the dugout. New York has managed seven runs during the five-game skid, hitting .173 (28-for-161) overall and .064 (2-for-31) with runners in scoring position. They've struck out 46 times with only eight walks.
"The at-bats, the last five days, they haven't been as good as they probably should be," Long said. "That tells me guys are probably trying a little too hard. There's not a lot of laughter, there's not a lot of at-ease at-bats, and that makes this game even more difficult."
The Yankees had the leadoff man on base five times, but were only able to push one runner as far as second base through the first seven frames; manager Joe Girardi said that Cobb seemed to get better with men on base. They mounted their biggest threat in the eighth, with Cobb nearing the finish line of a 112-pitch outing.
"It's a good team," Cobb said. "I know they're going through a little bit of a struggle offensively, but you go up and down that lineup and you don't understand how, because they're just all very good big league hitters."
Francisco Cervelli logged a one-out single and Gardner walked to chase Cobb. Derek Jeter greeted Brad Boxberger with a single to right field that loaded the bases, but Jacoby Ellsbury whiffed on three pitches and Boxberger froze Mark Teixeira with a 94-mph cutter for a called third strike.
"I felt like we had a chance until that guy came out and just made quality pitches," Teixeira said. "Ells and I were talking about, we didn't feel that we got a pitch to hit. The guy throws 96 with a good changeup, and we just couldn't get it done."
Cobb improved to 5-1 with a 1.75 ERA in eight career starts against New York. James Loney homered off Esmil Rogers in the eighth inning to increase the Rays' lead, and Joel Peralta set the Yanks down in order in the ninth.
"The guys have not stopped fighting. We're just not getting the hits when we need them," Girardi said.
Brandon McCarthy gave New York a solid outing despite the absence of run support, but Gardner called it "a wasted performance." Tampa Bay touched the sinkerballer for a pair of runs on first-inning fielder's choice grounders before McCarthy settled in.
"We had some ground balls in the infield," McCarthy said. "Some days those might turn into double plays. Some days they're tougher plays. I've got to do a better job of not getting into that jam where you're relying on something happening behind you."
McCarthy held the Rays to a pair of singles from the second until the sixth inning, striking out seven, but was charged with his second straight loss. He fatigued in the seventh, an inning that opened with Chase Headley's first error as a Yankee, snapping a 62-game errorless streak.
Curt Casali singled home the Rays' third run, and Teixeira flubbed a Ben Zobrist grounder that went for a run-scoring groundout. McCarthy said that he senses the hitters' issues have increased the pressure on the pitching staff.
"I know the hitters are feeling it," McCarthy said. "Anytime you go through this, it affects us as a team. You feel it. It's not a me situation of, 'Woe is me, they're not scoring runs.'
"We're not scoring runs. That's something I'm sure that weighs on everyone, and everyone is doing what they can to correct it. It's not a time to have your own personal feelings hurt and worry about yourself."
The shoulders may be sagging, but Gardner said that the veterans on the club know that there is still time to change the narrative. It must happen soon, though.
"We still have a chance," Gardner said. "We're still in it; we're not out of it by any means. We have to take advantage of opportunities."