TORONTO - The New York Yankees have played this kind of game a lot this season and it's precisely why their detractors think they won't have a long life come playoff time. For a team with so many experienced hitters, they struggle to score when they don't hit the ball over the fence.
Smallball is not us, they might use as a motto. But come October, it often needs to be.
Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays before 36,139 in Rogers Centre would have been a head-scratcher in April or May. For it to come in game No. 158 in the heat of a taut pennant race? Patently unacceptable.
"We had plenty of opportunities today to get some runs. We just didn't get it done," was manager Joe Girardi's short but spot-on analysis.
The Yankees are 91-67 this season - but just seven of those wins have come in games when they did not hit at least one home run. They're just 7-23 when they don't go deep, a huge drop from last year's 20-24 mark in those games.
The Yankees had the bases loaded with no outs in the first and third innings and managed just two first-inning runs on sacrifice flies by Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. They had the leadoff man on base in six innings and scored in only one. They were 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base.
Staked to the 2-0 lead, Andy Pettitte (5-4) couldn't hold it and gave up his first runs in three starts since coming off the disabled list.
The Yankees are just 11th in the American League with runners in scoring position overall (.251) and with two out (.227). When punchless Alex Rodriguez (2-for-24 slump, no extra-base hits in 13 games) made the final out on a broken-bat fly ball to center field, he fired the bat into the ground in disgust as he jogged toward first base.
"It's never a good sign when you let a team hang around a little bit," A-Rod said. "Today was especially frustrating. . We couldn't capitalize and it would have been nice to score four, five, six runs [in the early innings]."
So with four games left, the Yankees and Orioles are tied for the AL East lead again after Baltimore's 4-3 win over the Boston Red Sox on Saturday night. The Yankees have dropped two of the first three games in this series against a Toronto team fighting to avoid its first last-place finish in the AL East since 2004.
And keep this in mind: If the Yankees and Orioles end up tied for the title, the tiebreaker playoff would be Thursday in Baltimore. So the Yankees would have to win on the road to avoid being dropped to the wild-card playoff the next day.
"We're not going to get down on ourselves," said first baseman Nick Swisher. "We're going to keep pushing and come back tomorrow with fire. [The Blue Jays] have guys fighting for spots for next season and we're fighting for the postseason. There's a lot of battling going on."
The Blue Jays won the battle in this one, getting six shutout innings from five relievers after starter Ricky Romero left with discomfort in his knee after only three innings. But the margin was slim.
With two outs and the bases loaded in the third, Eduardo Nunez's liner was speared by Jays rookie second baseman Adeiny Hechevarria for the third out. If it gets past the Cuban, it might have rolled to the right-center field wall and cleared the bases.
With two on and one out in the fifth, Raul Ibanez hit into a 3-6-3 double play. Ichiro Suzuki was picked off first in the seventh and caught trying to take off for second. Brett Gardner was nailed trying to steal second in the eighth (although replays appeared to show he was safe).
"We had chances to blow that game open and we didn't," Girardi said. "It's not a good loss."
Hechevarria, the MVP this year at Las Vegas and a Pacific Coast League player at the Triple-A All-Star Game in July at Coca-Cola Field, won this one with an RBI double off Pettitte in the bottom of the sixth.
Toronto started its climb back on Rajai Davis' solo homer off Pettitte in the first and tied the game on Davis' two-out dribbler to Rodriguez in the fifth that drove in Jeff Mathis. It appeared the ball was going to go foul but Rodriguez played it and had no chance to get the speedy Davis.
"He runs really well so I don't have a lot of time to think about the play," Rodriguez said. "I picked the most aggressive choice."
The Yankees will try to salvage a split of the series today at 1 (YES) as Phil Hughes (16-13) goes against Henderson Alvarez (9-14). They then host the Red Sox for their final three games and Boston will throw Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka against them.
"This was frustrating. Guys gave me a lead and I wasn't able to hold on to it," Pettitte said. "It just wasn't a good game for us."