ST. PETERSBURG -- The Yankees' bullpen was an unexpected strength through the first three weeks of the season, challenging relievers to bump up their innings into new roles and largely enjoying positive results from that shuffle in job titles.
That all came unraveled in an ugly second act on Friday, with Adam Warren surrendering a go-ahead two-run single to James Loney in the seventh inning. When the carnage was complete, New York's bullpen had surrendered eight runs, allowing the Rays to run away with an 11-5 victory at Tropicana Field.
"Everybody is going to have an off night; it just happened that a couple of guys did on the same night," said Warren, who was tagged with the loss and a blown save. "We'll bounce back. We've been pitching well. You have off nights, but it's how you bounce back."
Yankees relievers had compiled a scoreless streak of 15 1/3 innings over the club's last seven games, but they were unable to put out any such fires on Friday, snapping New York's five-game winning streak.
It went from bad to worse when left-hander Cesar Cabral hit three batters in the eighth inning, prompting an ejection from home-plate umpire Joe West.
Manager Joe Girardi disagreed with West's ruling, saying that it was clear Cabral had no command, but the Yankees soon gave Cabral the thumb, too. He was designated for assignment late on Friday, with right-hander Matt Daley summoned from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to take his place.
"Today's not a good day," Cabral said. "I don't try to hit anybody. I want to throw strikes, and that happens sometimes."
The Yankees held a 5-3 lead heading into the home half of the seventh inning. Starter Hiroki Kuroda was already out of the game, having battled to hold the Rays to three runs and seven hits over 5 2/3 innings, and David Phelps recorded the final out of the sixth.
Phelps permitted a leadoff hit and was drilled in the stomach by a Ryan Hanigan line drive, prompting Phelps' removal. Matt Thornton recorded an out but allowed a single, and Warren was greeted by a run-scoring single off the bat of pinch-hitter Desmond Jennings.
"You saw some of the swings those guys put on some of those two-strike pitches," Phelps said. "It seemed like they were trying to fight balls off and they were just finding ways to drop in."
Warren lost Evan Longoria to a full-count walk and then worked the count to 1-2 before Loney delivered the go-ahead hit, a line-drive single that soared over a leaping stab by second baseman Yangervis Solarte.
Loney had four RBIs for the Rays, having also knocked a two-run double off Kuroda in the fourth inning.
"We've got a lot of good hitters here, and a lot of guys that want to be up there in those situations and have those opportunities," Loney said.
Sean Rodriguez slugged a two-run homer in the eighth to pad Tampa Bay's lead, and the wheels came off as Cabral faced six batters without retiring anyone. Cabral hit Longoria and Loney, then was tossed after firing a fastball into Logan Forsythe's back.
"He just clearly has no command; it's unfortunate," Girardi said. "Obviously we're not trying to hit anyone there, and I feel bad that we hit three people there."
New York held a 4-0 lead early in the contest, doing all of that scoring against Tampa Bay starter Erik Bedard in the second inning. Scott Sizemore delivered the big blow, skying a three-run double to deep center field that David DeJesus could not track down.
Brett Gardner also had a run-scoring fielder's choice in that inning, capitalizing after the Yankees successfully challenged a call at first base involving Ichiro Suzuki.
In the seventh, Jacoby Ellsbury singled, stole second and scored on an Alfonso Soriano single to give New York what seemed at the time like a safe two-run lead. The Yanks had been 10-0 this season when leading after six innings.
"You never know what can happen," Bedard said. "After that, our offense took over and we won the game."
Warren said that the loss would not shake the foundation of the Yankees' bullpen, which is due to receive a boost early next week when closer David Robertson should be activated from the disabled list, thus returning pitchers to their envisioned roles.
"I think we've proven we can pitch at this level," Warren said. "We know we can. It's just going out there and executing pitches. I think we know we can do that. We just have to try to bounce back and still maintain that confidence."