CHICAGO -- The snapping point for the manager came not during the 20th straight game without a day off, but just after it.
As Joe Girardi started his interview session Wednesday night after the Yankees' 2-1 loss to the White Sox, sweeping his team out of Chicago and cutting its AL East lead to three games, a blustering fan in White Sox paraphernalia yelled at Girardi, "You bum!"
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"Hey, hey, shut up!" Girardi shouted back, walking briskly toward the husky -- and quite possibly less than sober -- man. "I'm doing an interview."
"Do something, would you?" Girardi, who stopped well short of the fan, then said to a security guard who was kicking back and relaxing in a golf cart outside the Yankees' clubhouse. "Shut this guy up."
Nothing came of the incident and Girardi returned to the pack of somewhat surprised media, picking up mid-answer about White Sox starter Chris Sale.
For the AL Central-leading White Sox, the 23-year-old lefthander certainly was the story, striking out 13 Yankees (who had 15 strikeouts in all) and allowing one run -- a Derek Jeter homer -- and three hits in 7 2/3 innings.
For the Yankees (72-52), who were 11-9 in the stretch of 20 consecutive games, it was something different: The AL East has become a race, something that seemed a long shot July 18 when they led by 10 games. With the surging Rays beating the Royals on Wednesday, the lead is three, the least it's been since June 26.
"You don't look at the scoreboard or the standings in April, May, June, July, August," said Jeter, who homered for a third straight game for the first time in his career. "I think it's too early."
Apparently not too early for Mark Teixeira, however. "I look at them [standings] at this point of the season. It's hard not to, it's on every scoreboard in baseball," Teixeira said. "But we probably didn't deserve to have a 10-game lead. No one ever thought we were going to run away with this thing. We always knew it was going to be a battle. This is probably where we're supposed to be. It's a tough division and we know we're going to have to keep fighting."
Phil Hughes, though he allowed his 29th homer of the season, pitched, in Girardi's words, "well enough to win."
The righthander, who fell to 12-11, allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings.
Most frustrating for Hughes was the homer he gave up to Alex Rios in the sixth inning after Jeter's 13th home run tied it in the top half.
"It wasn't as in as I wanted it to be," Hughes said of the 0-and-1 pitch. "It cost us. You tie the game, and to give it up the next inning is tough."
Hughes said he knew going in he'd have to be close to "perfect" to beat Sale, who improved to 15-4 with a 2.65 ERA.
"He's been doing it to most of the league," Jeter said. "He was a handful."
Teixeira, who doubled -- as did Robinson Cano -- said it was like "facing a closer three times." Not surprising, considering Sale started his career in the bullpen.
"The guy throws 95, 96 from a weird angle," Teixeira said. "It's difficult to face a guy like that. There's a reason why his numbers are so good."
The Yankees' numbers here over the three days, on the other hand, were not good and suddenly a once insurmountable number in the division isn't anymore.
"That off day for us [Thursday] couldn't come at a better time," Nick Swisher said. "We need a little break . . . We're not sweating anything, we're not stressing nothing. We can make a lot of good things happen in a short amount of time."