NEW YORK -- Without putting runners in scoring position, the Rays hardly have opportunities to bring them home.
Tampa Bay struggled to get runners on early against Ivan Nova and, in turn, didn't have much of a chance to bring them home during a 5-3 loss to the Yankees on Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
The loss dropped the Rays back to four games behind the Yankees in the American League East standings. Tampa Bay also trails Baltimore by three games for the second AL Wild Card.
"We've sang this song," Rays manager Joe Maddon lamented. "I'm sure we can make a nice country music, country-western song out of this whole thing. It's tough, but you cannot let it get you down. You've got to come back tomorrow."
Tampa Bay is now 8-for-52 (.153) with runners in scoring position in its last eight games. The Rays didn't advance a runner past second base on Saturday afternoon until the top of the sixth inning, when Evan Longoria snapped Yankees starter Ivan Nova's shutout bid with his first home run since Sept. 7.
"It's the offense," Longoria said. "We've asked a lot from the pitching staff the whole year. Can't say it enough -- we've got to get hits. We've got to produce runs. However we have to do it, we have to do it. But the time is now."
The Rays finally knocked Nova out of the game in the seventh, when they tacked on two more runs to narrow the margin to 4-3. Nova was charged with one of those runs, finishing the day with four hits and two runs allowed over six innings, adding eight strikeouts.
"It's not that I didn't try to be focused in the past, but a game like today, especially coming back from the DL, you have to do everything you can to win this game," said Nova, who was making his first start since right shoulder inflammation forced him to the disabled list for three weeks. "I came from my house mentally prepared to do that."
Nova bested Rays starter James Shields, who labored in a three-run second inning but was otherwise steady. Back-to-back home runs by Curtis Granderson -- his 39th of the season and fifth in his last six games -- and Eduardo Nunez were Shields' undoing.
It was Nunez's first home run since Sept. 21, 2011, when he also went deep off Shields.
"I thought I made a bad pitch to Nunez," Shields said. "I felt the pitch to Granderson was a good pitch. I went back and looked at the video, it was down and away, on the black. He's a good hitter, and obviously with the short porch, he's going to try to pop it out over there. He did put a good swing on that."
After the two homers gave New York a 3-0 lead, the Yankees tacked on one more in the fifth when Derek Jeter battled Shields through a nine-pitch at-bat that eventually resulted in an RBI single, scoring Ichiro Suzuki from second.
"I really didn't like that fourth run," Maddon said. "That one kind of bothered me a little bit, because I knew it was going to get increasingly more difficult to get back to that point."
Jeff Keppinger singled to lead off the seventh against Nova before Ben Francisco reached on a fielder's choice. Francisco and Ryan Roberts, who singled off reliever Boone Logan, both scored on a two-out single by pinch-hitter Luke Scott.
Robinson Cano doubled in the eighth on a ball that B.J. Upton misplayed in center field, and Cano scored when Alex Rodriguez followed with a single, providing a valuable insurance run.
"We got one today," Longoria said of the Rays' timely hitting. "The two-out hit by Luke was big. But [more costly was] the lack of being able to put together multiple hits in a row and have those innings where you put a lot of strain on a starting pitcher. Eventually, those lead to knocking a guy out and getting to the bullpen. ... We haven't really been able to stretch any bullpens out."