Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 9/4/12

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The New York Yankees had held sole possession of first place of the American League East for 84 consecutive days. Now they have to share.

The Tampa Bay Rays used three home runs and a stalwart pitching effort from Alex Cobb on Tuesday at Tropicana Field to beat New York 5-2, allowing the Baltimore Orioles to climb into an AL East tie by routing the Blue Jays.

Recent performance brings into question how long the battered and staggering Yankees can hold onto even a piece of the top perch. In losing the second game of the three-game series to the Rays -- who pulled within 1 1/2 games of the lead -- the Yankees have lost three straight and 10 of their last 14. They've led in seven of those losses, including Tuesday. They're 19-25 since building a 10-game division lead - 10 1/2 on the Rays -- on July 18.

The early two-run margin wasn't sufficient against a Rays team that has won four straight games and 19 of their last 30.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who was ejected in the fourth inning arguing a called third strike on Chris Dickerson, said the Yankees' situation feels no different sharing the lead than it did while leading the division alone. This loss, he said, felt like many of its predecessors, with inconsistent hitting and untimely pitching mistakes, like the two Freddy Garcia splitters that were turned into home runs.

"You got to go play," Girardi said, "try to have good at-bats, try to make pitches. It's baseball. You've got to find a way to get it done."

The Yankees took a 2-0 lead off Cobb in the first inning when Robinson Cano followed a two-out walk to Nick Swisher with his 29th home run of the season. But Cobb allowed just three hits, a walk and a hit batter, retiring the last 10 straight, until departing after the seventh inning. Reliever Joel Peralta struck out the side in the eighth and Fernando Rodney recorded his major-league-leading 42nd save.

"No lead is safe in the AL East," said Cobb, who improved to 9-8 as the Rays won his seventh straight start. "You face each other so much in September that anything can happen."

Rays manager Joe Maddon said he expects a "lot of the same" in the final month. The Rays clinched a wild-card berth in the final game of last season, and Maddon said, "It just seems to be happening on an annual basis now."

B.J. Upton's run-scoring double cut the Yankee lead in half in the bottom of the first, but Garcia struck out Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce with Upton (2-for-4) on third to preserve the lead. Desmond Jennings had led off with a walk and stolen second before Upton's shot down the third-base line.

The Rays took the lead with a rally similar to the Yankees' first-inning outburst, as Longoria rocked a 2-2 splitter on the inside corner into the left-field stands for a two-run homer. His 10th home run of the season followed a two-out walk to Ben Zobrist.

The Rays used solo home runs from Jennings (his 12th) and Upton (team-leading 18th) to increase the Rays lead to 5-2 in the fifth.

NOTES: Girardi would not discuss why he was ejected. ... Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova, on the 15-day disabled list since Aug. 23 because of shoulder inflammation, threw off the mound to hitters on Tuesday before the game. ... Garcia has failed to reach the sixth innings in his last three starts and allowed 12 runs over 14 1/3 innings in that span. ... The Yankees have managed five hits or fewer in five straight games, their longest such streak since 1990. ... Longoria started at DH and hit clean-up a day after taking himself out of the game with what was described as a tired hamstring. Maddon said there was no concern, although Longoria spent much of the season on the DL with a knee injury and has been brought back to full-time duty methodically. "Stay with the program, keep him well, guard against any problems," Maddon said. ... Rodney became the sixth pitcher in history to have as many as six saves against the Yankees in a season. ... Hiroki Kuroda (12-10, 3.04) faces Matt Moore (10-8, 3.58) in the final game of the series on Wednesday.

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