NEW YORK -- Working counts is the Yankees' trademark. Opposing pitchers rarely see hitters wearing pinstripes give away at-bats.
On Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees lived up to their reputation, handing James Shields his first loss of the season, a 5-3 decision against the Rays with 37,086 in attendance.
The Rays have lost three in a row, falling to 19-11.
Shields started for the Rays, seeking to move to 6-0 on the season, and the right-hander got out of the gates quickly, retiring the first two batters he faced on five pitches. But despite holding the Yankees scoreless through three, Shields saw his pitch count swell to 56.
"I was getting ahead of hitters early, and then they were just working the counts," Shields said. "They had some pretty good at-bats, for the most part."
In the fourth, the Yankees finally broke through against the Rays' ace.
Robinson Cano doubled to center field to lead off the inning and moved to third on a groundout to first. With the Rays' infield drawn in, Nick Swisher hit a sharp grounder to second baseman Will Rhymes, who fielded the ball and snapped off a quick throw to home. Catcher Jose Molina received the throw, successfully blocking the plate while tagging out Cano for the second out of the inning.
Shields appeared to be out of the inning when he got ahead of Raul Ibanez, 1-2, in the count. Ibanez had touched Shields for a three-run homer at Tropicana Field in the right-hander's first start of the season, and once again, Ibanez loaded up. The veteran slugger re-routed a changeup into the right-field stands to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
Curtis Granderson added to the Yankees' lead with his 10th home run of the season, a solo shot that came on a 3-2 pitch with two outs in the fifth.
"That's what [the Yankees do]," Shields said. "They fight. They have good at-bats every single game. You have to kind of roll with it. I thought both of those home runs were pretty good pitches.
"I think [Ibanez] went and got it. He was a little bit out in front of it. [For] Granderson's, I thought I had him -- a popout to right. But that's the way this stadium lays out. You have to execute your pitches a little better than that."
Shields allowed three runs on four hits and left after six innings and 109 pitches.
The Rays scored via solo home runs by Molina and Luke Scott, and Ben Zobrist tripled and scored on a wild pitch by Rafael Soriano. And in the end, they almost managed to come back against new Yankees closer Dave Robertson, which would have gotten Shields off the hook. Instead, the ninth-inning script mirrored the frustrations of other failed run-scoring opportunities.
Robertson entered the game in the ninth looking for his first save of the season, but the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera could not find the strike zone. Rhymes drew a one-out walk and Sean Rodriguez singled through the hole at shortstop. Robertson recovered to strike out pinch-hitter Brandon Allen before walking Zobrist to load the bases for Carlos Pena.
The count moved to 2-2 before Pena watched a third strike to end the game, making the Rays 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position on Tuesday night.
"We fought back; that's what you want," Rodriguez said. "But we had a couple of opportunities throughout the game where we had a runner on third with less than two out and we couldn't get them across. That's unacceptable."
The Rays' missed opportunities were magnified by the fact the Yankees managed to add on runs in the seventh when Burke Badenhop surrendered a solo home run to Ibanez and in the eighth on Mark Teixeira's RBI double off Joel Peralta.
"Yeah, those add-on runs by them were really bad," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
While the Rays hitters did come up short on Tuesday, much of the problem dealt with Yankees pitching, led by starter Ivan Nova, who picked up his third career win against no defeats versus the Rays.
"Their guy, Nova, really pitched well until we finally saw a crack in the armor a little bit later in the game -- but he pitched well," Maddon said. "So did Soriano and Robertson. It was a well-played game. They got us tonight."
The victory gave Joe Girardi his 400th win as manager of the Yankees, a milestone downplayed by the skipper.
"To me, it's more important that we won the game," Girardi said. "It's one of the teams that we're chasing right now, and I know there's a long ways to go, but the way we played in Tampa, we weren't real pleased, and it's a good win."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.