CLEVELAND - Of course, it had to come down to him. Alex Rodriguez, 0-for-3 to that point on his 35th birthday, stepped up one final time last night with the crowd on its feet, special baseballs in play for the occasion and cameras flashing.
But on a night when the Yankees didn't do much of anything against Indians pitching, Rodriguez, the potential tying run, grounded into a force play against Chris Perez for the final out of a 4-1 loss in front of 27,416 at Progressive Field.
"The No. 1 thing is you want to get a big hit, hit the ball hard somewhere," Rodriguez said. "A home run would be fantastic, not to get 600 but mostly to tie the game."
Joe Girardi said he was thinking: "Maybe this is it . This would be a real good time to hit one."
Instead, from the Yankees' perspective, it was a disappointing end to an overall rough night. Through six innings, they had more errors (two) than hits (one), an unsatisfactory performance on any night but especially against soft-throwing righthander Josh Tomlin, who made his major-league debut at 25.
The Yankees saw their lead over Tampa cut to two games.
Tomlin, with a fastball that only occasionally surpassed 90 mph, retired the first nine Yankees before allowing Derek Jeter's leadoff single in the fourth. Tomlin retired nine straight after that, not giving up another hit until Nick Swisher's one-out double in the seventh.
But by that time, the Yankees and CC Sabathia, who lost for the first time since May 23, trailed 4-0, and Swisher was stranded at second.
"For the most part,'' Rodriguez said, "I don't think we had any good swings off him."
The Yankees finally scored against Tomlin in the eighth. Robinson Cano led off with a double and came in on pinch hitter Colin Curtis' grounder to second against Joe Smith, cutting their deficit to 4-1.
Tomlin gave up one run and three hits in seven-plus, walking none and striking out two.
Sabathia (13-4) came in 9-0 with a 2.22 ERA in his previous 10 starts. He allowed four runs (two earned) and nine hits in seven innings. He threw a season-high 123 pitches and called his outing "so-so."
He watched from the clubhouse when Rodriguez came up in the ninth, thinking like Girardi: What better time for No. 600?
"Seemed like a pretty ideal time, and since I've been here, he's hit some big homers for us," Sabathia said. "Anytime you've got some runners on base in a situation like that, you feel he's going to come through."
A-Rod grounded out his first two times up against Tomlin, in the second and fifth innings, and flew out just short of the track in right in the seventh.
"A few times over the last three or four days, I've kind of come out of it a little bit, trying to swing a little too hard, maybe getting a little pull happy," said Rodriguez, who hit No. 599 Thursday. "As long as I swing at strikes, good things are going to happen."
And, yes, the thought did occur to him Tuesday that getting No. 600 on his birthday would have been a great gift.
"I thought it would have been a fantastic present but it didn't work out," he said. "I've had some good birthdays. Tonight wasn't the greatest, but I'm still going to enjoy it."