NEW YORK -- Billed as a battle between two of the American League's top southpaws, Thursday night's rubber match between the Rays and Yankees came down to home runs hit by left-handed sluggers.
Those homers were the difference in the Rays' 5-3 loss at Yankee Stadium.
Losing for the fourth time in five games moved the Rays to 20-12 on the season as they head to Baltimore for a three-game weekend series against the Orioles in a battle between the top two teams in the AL East.
David Price and CC Sabathia had made five starts against one another, and Price carried a 3-0 record in those contests into Thursday's finale. The Rays had won all five of the meetings between the two lefties.
Price is normally particularly nasty on left-handed hitters. Entering Thursday's game, lefty hitters were batting .201 with just six home runs in 100 games against Price. So when Curtis Granderson hit a solo home run off him in the second, the slugging center fielder's 11th home run of the season could be view as an oddity.
But when Robinson Cano connected for a two-run homer off Price in the fifth, the blast registered as a disturbing trend.
"[The pitch to Granderson] was a good fastball down and in," Price said. "I'd throw that pitch again. He put a good swing on it and hit it well.
"[The pitch to Cano was] just a slider -- it was in the middle of the plate, just a bad pitch. He put a charge in that one as well."
Rays manager Joe Maddon offered an ironic smile at the mention of Price giving up two home runs to left-handed hitters.
"They're not your run-of-the-mill lefties," Maddon said. "Cano hits lefties well. Granderson's gotten a lot better against lefties over the last couple of years. They both struck those balls well. They beat us with the homer. That's who they are, and that's how we lost."
Cano's homer put the Yankees up, 4-2. Andruw Jones added an RBI double in the fifth, and the Yankees had what turned out to be a commanding 5-2 lead.
Price allowed five earned runs on 11 hits in seven innings en route to his second loss of the season.
Maddon suggested that Price's pitches might have caught just a little bit too much of the plate on Thursday night, though Price didn't totally agree with his manager.
"That's a good hitting team -- when you make mistakes, they hit them," Price said. "When you make a good pitch, they hit them. I felt like they swung the bats extremely well tonight. I felt like I made some pretty good pitches and they put some good swings on balls. I've got to be better."
Meanwhile, Sabathia lived up to his billing.
In the first, Carlos Pena hit a two-out single to right field off Sabathia with the bases loaded to drive in a run -- but the Rays could have had more. Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher threw out Jeff Keppinger at home on the play to end the inning.
Sean Rodriguez added an RBI single in the second that gave the Rays a 2-0 lead. Both runs against Sabathia were unearned due to two errors by Eduardo Nunez, who started at third on a night when Alex Rodriguez served as the Yankees' designated hitter.
"I didn't think [Sabathia] was that sharp tonight, that dominant," Ben Zobrist said. "We just didn't get big hits when we needed them. We just didn't get much going. I just don't think we swung the bats extremely well. ... It just seemed like we didn't get any big hits. And that's what he's good at -- runners in scoring position, really tightening up a little bit. He really didn't have his best stuff, but it was good enough."
Even though the Rays managed to push a run across the plate in the second, one of their bigger snafus came one inning after Elliot Johnson hit a leadoff single and Chris Gimenez reached on an error by Nunez. Will Rhymes then popped out on a sacrifice bunt attempt. Rhymes' lack of execution on the play hurt.
"That's something I'm usually able to do," Rhymes said. "But not tonight, you know? That's how it goes sometimes. Even if it's something you're comfortable doing, sometimes it doesn't work out."
The Rays' final shot against Sabathia came in the top of the seventh, when Rodriguez singled to put two runners on with two outs, but Sabathia struck out B.J. Upton to end the inning.
"That's a great team over there," Sabathia said of the Rays. "They keep the pressure on and keep coming, no matter what the score is. ... I was disappointed in myself [to give up an 0-2 single to Rodriguez] but fired up that I was able to make pitches to B.J. Upton."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.