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Hellickson keeps Yanks looking for first win

A couple of hours before first pitch Sunday, Joe Girardi and Derek Jeter had a general conversation about baseball.

"Jeet and I were talking about it a little bit," the New York Yankees' manager said. "It seems the first in anything in this game is the hardest to get."

The first Yankees' win of 2012 awaits still.

With Jeremy Hellickson in control throughout, the Yankees fell meekly, 3-0, Sunday to the Rays, who completed a season-opening three-game sweep.

"That first one in everything at the start of the season is always the toughest," Girardi said afterward. "Whether it's your first hit, your first win as a pitcher or your first win as a club or your first home run. It's always that first one that seems to be the toughest. But this is a resilient club. We'll be fine."

There wasn't much in the way of frustration in the clubhouse regarding the 0-3 start, more in Sunday being the continuation of something representative of the first two games: the Yankees squaring up plenty of balls but not enough to show for it; and not against the shifts Rays manager Joe Maddon put on for, it seemed, about half the Yankees' lineup.

"Everything they did worked out perfectly. Everything we did worked out imperfectly," said Alex Rodriguez, who had one of the Yankees' three hits -- which were all doubles. "You tip your cap and move on to the next city."

The Yankees, who start a three-game series against the undefeated Orioles tonight in Baltimore, went 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position and stranded six. Hellickson, last year's American League Rookie of the Year, retired nine batters in a row before walking Nick Swisher with two outs in the ninth. Fernando Rodney came in and retired Raul Ibanez for the one-out save.

"You definitely get a sense of urgency," Rodriguez said. "Guys are playing hard. It's not like guys are not hustling. Offensively, we're hitting balls that, like Kevin [hitting coach Kevin Long] said, we probably hit a dozen balls on the nose that were caught."

Phil Hughes, coming off an impressive spring, wasn't bad but he wasn't long for the afternoon, lasting just 4 2/3 innings because of a high pitch count. The right-hander allowed two runs and five hits and threw 99 pitches.

One of those hits was a third-inning home run by Carlos Pena, who tortured Yankees pitching all series. The Rays got on the board in the first when Ibanez, getting the start in right, misplayed Matt Joyce's soft liner, resulting in a run-scoring triple.

"I misread it, the velocity of the ball," said Ibanez, who made an awkward slide trying to catch the ball, which skipped over his glove and rolled to the wall. "I tried to make a play instead of holding up and it didn't work out. I screwed it up."

Some brief history for panicky fans of the pinstripes: The last time the Yankees started 0-3 was 1998, when they ended up going 114-48 and won the World Series. And though the Rays, an expected contender, are 3-0, so too are the Orioles, likely not to contend.