DETROIT - A critical seven-game trip that started so promisingly Monday night in Kansas City had significant air taken out of it Tuesday night.
Frustrated for eight innings by Rick Porcello, the Yankees for the most part went quietly in a 5-2 loss to the Tigers in front of 40,488 at Comerica Park, snapping a five-game winning streak.
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"Gotta win the series," Joe Girardi said before the game. "It's extremely important."
Important because the Tigers (71-59), 1 1/2 games behind the Royals in the AL Central, are one of the teams the Yankees (68-62) are trying to hurdle for a wild-card spot.
The Yankees, without Brett Gardner a second straight game as he nurses a bruised right ankle -- he said afterward he expects to play Wednesday night -- fell seven games behind the first-place Orioles in the AL East.
And now the Yankees hope they don't repeat a seasonlong trend: following a winning streak with a losing skid.
"Hopefully, we go on another run," said Jacoby Ellsbury, who went 3-for-4 with two homers, giving him 13 on the season.
Said Girardi: "It's really important, we have to find a way to win a game tomorrow and stop it right now. Obviously we're facing a good team and a good pitcher [David Price], but we have to get it done."
Porcello (15-8, 3.06), coming off a complete-game shutout of the Rays in his previous start, allowed two runs and nine hits before Joe Nathan got the final three outs for his 28th save.
Only Ellsbury solved Porcello, hitting two solo homers against him, part of a night that improved him to 11-for-17 with four homers in his career against Porcello. "I can't really explain it," Ellsbury said. "I guess I got a couple of pitches I could hit and I didn't miss them."
Brandon McCarthy, 5-2 with a 1.90 ERA in eight previous starts with the Yankees, allowed five runs and nine hits in 6 1/3 innings. "I just never settled in, never felt comfortable mechanically. I just wasn't sharp," McCarthy said, explaining later he felt he was "rushing" on the mound. "It sucks because as we get closer to the end, all of them become important."
Yankees starters entered the game 7-4 with a 2.69 ERA in their previous 19 games and though McCarthy's numbers didn't match up to that standard, his manager and catcher weren't as critical of the pitcher's performance as he was.
"It was coming out really good," Brian McCann said. "The middle of their order is as good as it gets, so you can't make mistakes. But like I said, I thought he threw the ball well tonight."
Girardi said, "I thought he pitched better than the numbers indicated."
McCarthy trailed 2-1 going into the sixth before the Tigers scored twice to make it 4-1 and added another in the seventh.
Ellsbury's second homer made it 5-2 in the eighth and when Derek Jeter (two hits) reached on an infield single, it appeared the Yanks might have something going. But Miguel Cabrera made a diving stop at first on McCann's grounder, turning it into a 3-6-3 double play.
The Tigers, who entered the season with World Series-or-bust expectations, ones that only intensified after they traded for Price, entered the night on the outside looking in if the playoffs started now but now lead the Yankees by three games.
"We're a team, we play every day to win," McCann said. "We're going to show up tomorrow and expect to win a ballgame."