ST. PETERSBURG -- The last time the Yankees opened a season with three losses, the owner started chirping back in New York and the manager's job security was being called into question by the tabloids.
That club won 114 games and the 1998 World Series, which provides some historical perspective for the Yankees. It is indeed early, but that removed only some of the sting after the Rays completed a season-opening three-game sweep with a 3-0 victory on Sunday.
"We have a lot of professionals in this clubhouse that have been through lots of ups and downs," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "It's probably not going to be our last three-game losing streak of the year. We're going to learn from it and try to get better."
Things have changed since George M. Steinbrenner and Joe Torre were in charge, but the expectation of winning is the same, and it wasn't met through 27 innings of regular-season play at Tropicana Field.
New York was stifled on Sunday by a dominant effort from right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, who threatened for a shutout and fell one strike shy before walking Nick Swisher in the ninth inning.
Fernando Rodney entered for a one-out save, getting Raul Ibanez to roll a grounder to shortstop Reid Brignac to complete the Rays' third series sweep of the Yankees in franchise history.
"We've all been through three-game losing streaks, but because it's the beginning of the year, it seems to be magnified a bit," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "This has been a team that over the years has been very resilient, and I expect to see that again."
The Bombers produced 12 runs in the first two games of the series, but Hellickson was the stingiest starter of the set. The reigning American League Rookie of the Year struck out four and walked four across his 8 2/3 innings, tossing 118 pitches.
"He just throws strikes," Nick Swisher said. "He didn't fall behind too many. It's not like he's got overpowering stuff. ... He pitched a great game, and I know he wanted to try to finish that off."
Hellickson kept the Yankees from producing any support for starter Phil Hughes, who was knocked out in the fifth inning. Coming off of a strong spring, Hughes ran his pitch count to 99 and exited after just 4 2/3 frames.
"They did a good job," Hughes said of the Rays. "They battled some really key at-bats when I would have liked to have had quick outs and put guys away. I have to do a better job of trying to get some outs early on and throw some better pitches in those situations."
Hughes limited Tampa Bay to two runs on five hits in the effort, walking two and striking out five.
"Every game this series, we've been down early, and that's hard to do on our hitters," Hughes said.
In the first inning, Matt Joyce laced a sinking liner to right field that Ibanez dove for, misplaying the ball into a run-scoring triple as it skipped past him and rolled to the fence.
Carlos Pena unloaded on his second homer of the series in the third inning, crushing a full-count heater for a solo blast into the right-field seats.
"He got in some long counts and they fouled some balls off, but overall, I thought he threw the ball pretty well," Girardi said of Hughes. "His changeup was real effective today. He made a mistake on his fastball to Pena, but overall, [he was] pretty decent."
Boone Logan recorded a strikeout to bail Hughes out of a two-on fifth-inning jam that featured a fan-interference double ruled on a deep drive to right field by Pena.
Logan grooved a pitch to Jeff Keppinger in the sixth inning that the infielder turned around for a long solo home run, his first, as Tampa Bay took a three-run lead.
"Boone had thrown the ball really well to three hitters, and then he made a mistake with the fastball," Girardi said.
One bright spot of the weekend came in the eighth, as right-hander David Phelps made his big league debut with his wife, Maria, and their 2-week-old daughter, Adeline, in the stands. Phelps struck out Elliot Johnson among his two outs recorded.
"This game is all about first impressions, so you want to go out there and do the best you can the first time out," Phelps said.
The Yankees had opportunities with runners in scoring position against Hellickson.
"Overall, he pretty much knew in the back of his mind, 'I have to challenge these guys,'" Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "'Keep my fastball in the zone, and if I do do that, [I'm] going to get a lot of bad swings, or chases, off [the] changeup.'"
New York left Swisher aboard after a one-out double in the second, then had two men on with one out in the fourth, as Hellickson got Swisher to pop out and Ibanez to fly out to deep center. In the sixth, Hellickson fanned Swisher with two aboard to escape unscathed.
"We can't get frustrated because we're not getting results, because we are putting great at-bats together," Swisher said. "We're doing things the right way. We just haven't picked up that first 'W' yet."