New York Yankees starting pitcher Vidal Nuno covers the plates as Tampa Bay Rays' Kevin Kiermaier (39) scores on a third-inning passed ball in a baseball game at Yankee Stadium in New York, Wednesday, July 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York Yankees are below .500 in the second half of a season for the first time in seven years. They've scored fewer runs in the American League than everyone but Houston and Boston, and the pinstriped players in the Bronx are hardly bombers.
No matter. Manager Joe Giardi is confident the Yankees will turn it around.
"This team never quits," he said. "They never quit and they won't quit."
New York failed to protect three leads Wednesday in losing its season-worst fifth straight game, 6-3 to Tampa Bay. Sean Rodriguez had the big blow in the finale of a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium, a two-run homer in the sixth that helped the Rays to its season-best fifth win in a row.
New York is below .500 at 41-42 for the first time since April 11. The last time the Yankees were below .500 during the second half was in 2007 when they were 42-43. They went 52-25 the rest of the way to earn the wild card.
Brett Gardner hit a leadoff homer and an RBI single against Jake Odorizzi (4-7) and added another hit for the Yankees. New York could muster little other than Brian McCann's long ball on a sweltering day at Yankee Stadium. Humidity made the temperature feel as if it were in the high 90s.
New York fielded a lineup without two of its most productive players. Jacoby Ellsbury was given a day off for being "kind of beat up," according Girardi. Mark Teixeira was also out after having fluid drained from his left knee, but Girardi expects him back in the lineup Thursday.
An offense that has scored only 330 runs and hit 71 homers stalled after Gardner's bouncer got past James Loney for a 3-2 lead in the fourth.
"I still believe in this team," Girardi said. "We just need to play better. It's a lot of different phases. You can look at almost every phase and say we need to play better and we have to find a way to get it done."
The Rays, on the other hand, are finally finding ways to win.
Ben Zobrist doubled twice among his three hits for the Rays, but ran into two outs. Rodriguez was thrown out trying to stretch an RBI single to the wall in right field in the fourth.
"That's the one thing we're trying to do, it's turn up that aggressiveness dial," Maddon said.
The Rays finished off their first road sweep since taking three in the Bronx Sept. 24-26.
The Rays improved to 11 games under .500 for the first time in a month after falling 18 under on June 10.
Joel Peralta tied Esteban Yan's record for appearances with the Rays at 266 when he pitched a scoreless eighth inning. Brad Boxberger was perfect in the ninth for his first save.
Brandon Guyer had an RBI single in the fifth. The Rays put runners on base in every inning but the second against Vidal Nuno (2-5) and three relievers.
Tampa Bay scored its first run on McCann's passed ball in the third. McCann made up for it in the bottom half, homering into the short porch in right field with two outs.
Despite hitting .220 coming in, McCann batted third with Ellsbury out.
After the Rays tied it on Rodriguez's RBI single to right in the fourth -- he was thrown out by Alfonso Soriano, a call upheld by review -- Gardner put the Yankees back on top 3-2 with a bounced single.
In this back-and-forth game, the Rays immediately tied it up in the fifth on Guyer's RBI single to left field. But Zobrist was thrown out by Gardner trying to score from second.
Forsythe led off the sixth with a single to chase Nuno. Rodriguez greeted reliever Shawn Kelley with a drive just left of Monument Park for the first two-run lead of the day.
Nuno yielded four runs -- three earned -- and eight hits in five-plus innings.
Odorizzi was also pulled in the sixth. He gave up three runs and eight hits. It was the most runs he's allowed since being charged with four on June 5.
NOTES: The Yankees commemorated the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's "Luckiest Man" speech from July 4, 1939 -- the team is in Minnesota on July 4. As part of the ceremony, a video of Derek Jeter and first baseman from all 30 MLB teams reading the speech was shown on the video board. ... New York signed Venezuelan SS Diego Castillo, Baseball America's No. 24 international prospect. ... Up next: The Yankees start an 11-game road trip in Minnesota on Thursday. The Rays face the Tigers in Detroit in the final stop of a 10-game trip.