NEW YORK -- CC Sabathia showed a potential sign of his old self in the first inning Sunday against Wil Myers. He already allowed a run on a pair of doubles -- one off the left-field fence and one that bounced over the right-field wall -- and he couldn't quite crank his fastball up to its former mid-90s form, but he put one past Myers for a strikeout en route to escaping the inning.
Three frames later, Myers ended Sabathia's day.
The slugging Rays sophomore hit a three-run inside-the-park homer off Sabathia in the third, then sent the struggling ace home with an RBI double in the fourth. The exit was already too late for the 41,122 fans at Yankee Stadium, whose frustrated boos made the most noise on an afternoon when the American League East-rival Rays took the three-game series with a 5-1 win.
"I was surprised to see today a little bit," said manager Joe Girardi. "I still think he's evolving as a different type of pitcher. Today he just didn't have his normal stuff that he's brought out the whole season. I didn't think he had his good sinker. I didn't think he had his good changeup. That was a little strange to see."
Girardi, Sabathia and pitching coach Larry Rothschild agree singular poor pitches or bad innings were the lefty's problem through his first six starts.
At times, according to Rothschild, Sabathia tried to revert too much to his old self, the former AL Cy Young Award winner who could power a fastball past the most imposing of hitters. Sabathia called it "just a lapse in concentration for a pitch or two."
It was a lack of stuff throughout Sunday's finale.
Rothschild noticed it in the bullpen, where he said Sabathia did not warm up well. And the big left-hander responded by trying to make early adjustments, keeping his hand more on top of his two-seamer. But he couldn't consistently command his changeup and called his fastball "all over the place."
"If I pitch better in those starts before, and we're not questioning that one pitch or that one inning, this doesn't look as bad," Sabathia said. "Obviously giving up 10 hits and five runs in three innings is not ever going to look good, but it doesn't pile on."
Instead it brought his ERA to 5.75 and his record to 3-4.
It forced Sabathia, his pitching coach and his manager to offer assurances that the 33-year-old is healthy and can find his familiar success, although they all admit he has to do it a little bit differently.
"I feel like he'll get past that as he gets adjusted to what he's doing now," Rothschild said. "Today he was just out of sync all day."
Relief came into the game after Myers' fourth-inning RBI double into left field, but the decisive runs scored an inning earlier, when Sabathia allowed a one-out double to Desmond Jennings before walking Evan Longoria to bring Myers to the plate.
"I think a big difference would be, I think, Wil Myers hitting an inside-the-park home run," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "That gave [Myers] some confidence and took a little bit away from them. That was the game-changer for us."
Sabathia threw a 2-2 changeup -- he was ahead of Myers with no balls and two strikes when he delivered a 91-mph fastball for the first-inning punchout -- and Myers sent it slicing away from Jacoby Ellsbury in center field.
The former AL Gold Glove Award winner made a leaping effort, but the ball smacked off the fence out of his reach, bouncing off his leg and into right field, giving Ellsbury no choice but to watch Carlos Beltran retrieve it as he returned to his feet from an awkward collision with the wall. Myers already had the signal to round third and head for home as Beltran fielded the ball, and it mattered little that Yangervis Solarte dropped the relay throw at second base.
Beltran was too far away to make a real play anyway.
"I just got caught up watching the play," Beltran said, "and when I reacted … I just couldn't get to it."
Alfredo Aceves entered and escaped the fourth, then kept the Rays off the board as he saw the game out with 5 1/3 scoreless innings, but the bats offered little help.
Three times the Yankees went three-up, three-down against Tampa Bay starter Erik Bedard -- they did so again against Joel Peralta in the eighth -- and they stranded all but one of the seven runners they put on base against the southpaw who entered the game winless with nine earned runs allowed in his previous 14 2/3 innings.
The Yankees scored four runs in 3 2/3 innings against Bedard in an April 18 loss, but they managed only one this time, temporarily tying the game in the second. Mark Teixeira led off with a single up the middle, advanced to third on an Alfonso Soriano double and scored on a sacrifice fly from Solarte.
It was one of three instances in which the Yankees had two on with nobody out, but the only time they scored.
Twice they turned the lineup over with runners in scoring position, but the first three hitters -- Ellsbury, Derek Jeter and Beltran -- went a combined 0-for-12, stranding 10 runners on base.
"The theme of these games that we've lost, probably the last four or five, is we really haven't hit with runners in scoring position," Girardi said, "and that's what it comes down to."
The skipper defended his captain, who had Peyton and Eli Manning watching from his personal suite as he went hitless in four at-bats to drop his current skid to 2-for-25.
It's not a matter of ascending age or declining health, according to Girardi, just a slump -- Jeter echoed the sentiments -- and the Yankees are left hoping the same is true for their staff ace.
"I can't let a little adversity throw what I've done over the years out the window," Sabathia said. "I still need to go out and battle and be as good as I can be. Going through this adversity has been the toughest part of my baseball career by far, but I know I'll come out of this and be a better pitcher for it."
Steven Miller is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.