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Devil Rays Spoil Justice Debut

It was a wild night for the New York Yankees.

Their pitchers walked 11 batters, Tampa Bay's new artificial fooled All-Star shortstop Derek Jeter on a bad-hop grounder, and then he and third baseman Scott Brosius lost a crucial popup in the roof in a 6-4 loss to the Devil Rays.

The two-time defending World Series champions haven't had a lot of trouble winning at Tropicana Field in the past. But lately, they've been faltering just about everywhere.

"We just didn't play well," manager Joe Torre said. "We hadn't played on this surface before ... but there's no excuse for this."

Russ Johnson, who had a two-run single and walked four times, got the game-winning RBI when Jeff Nelson (6-2) walked him on four pitches with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth.

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  • It was the third walk of the inning issued by Nelson, and the 10th by a New York pitcher. Todd Erdos replaced Nelson and walked Felix Martinez to force in another run to make it 6-4. The eighth and ninth hitters in Tampa Bay's order walked seven times.

    "We saw two different Nelsons there," Torre said. "He got the first man out with no problem. And then he got (Fred) McGriff to pop up. There should have been two out after that. Then, all of the sudden he can't get people out."

    Jeter and Brosius lost sight of the pop fly and the ball dropped just beyond the infield for a double. Four of the next five batters walked to give the Devil Rays the lead and an insurance run.

    "I think the harder he tried to throw a strike, the worse it became," Torre said f Nelson. "Then it was just out of control ... It was disappointing to lose it the way we did. we gave it away basically."

    Bryan Rekar limited the Yankees to four hits over seven innings before Jim Mecir (6-1) gave up a two-run homer to Bernie Williams that tied it 4-4.

    Johnson broke a 2-2 tie in the third, singling off Jason Grimsley with the bases loaded in the third. Felix Martinez and Randy Winn hit RBI singles off the Yankees starter in the second as Tampa Bay wiped out a 2-0 deficit.

    The victory enabled the Devil Rays to finish June with a 15-11 record and the club's best-ever winning percentage (.577) for a month. Roberto Hernandez got the last three outs for his 11th save.

    "I guess you have to walk before you can run," Tampa Bay manager Larry Rothschild said of his team's recent success. "It's a start, especially after all the injuries we've had. The injuries didn't stop in June, but some guys have stepped up. What it says to me is we've played well despite the injuries. We've just got to build on that."

    The Yankees lost for the sixth time in eight games, closing June with a 10-15 mark that snapped a streak of 23 consecutive non-losing months second longest in team history and the longest in the majors since Baltimore went 25 straight non-losing months from 1969 to 1972.

    Tino Martinez drove in a run on a force play and Shane Spencer had a sacrifice fly, both in the second, for the Yankees.

    David Justice, acquired Thursday from Cleveland for Ricky Ledee and two players to be named, went 0-for-3, but scored a run in his first game for New York.

    Jorge Posada had two of the four hits off Rekar, singling in the second and seventh. Scott Brosius doubled in the fifth, and Williams singled in the sixth. Meanwhile, the Devil Rays stranded 13 runners through seven innings, and a lack of timely hitting finally caught up wih them when Williams homered.

    Justice made his debut as the Yankees designated hitter, moving into the fifth spot in the batting order and dropping the struggling Martinez to seventh. On his initial plate appearance, he was awarded first base when Mike DiFelice was called for catcher's interference and later scored on Spencer's sacrifice fly.

    Rekar settled down after falling behind 2-0 in the second inning. He retired eight of nine batters before Brosius doubled for New York's second hit. Posada was the only Yankees baserunner during the stretch, reaching on a two-out walk in the fourth.

    Williams singled with one out in the sixth, but Justice grounded into an inning-ending double play.


  • The Yankees were 19-5 against the Devil Rays the past two seasons, including 11-3 at Tropicana Field
  • Chuck Knoblauch and Jeter, the first two batters in the Yankees order, went 0-for-3 against Rekar. They are 0-for-23 lifetime against the right-hander
  • Williams has an 11-game hitting streak
  • Felix Martinez snapped an 0-for-10 slump with his RBI single for Tampa Bay
  • The Devil Rays' club-record streak of nine consecutive games with a home run ended.

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