The Yankees entered the game with pressing questions about CC Sabathia's lack of firepower -- namely, can the 34-year-old lefthander, coming back from season-ending knee surgery and working with a slower fastball -- be an effective weapon for them?
It turned out, the better question was this: Can the Yankees' offense produce enough firepower of its own this year, or will their lack of production nullify even a promising pitching performance?
The Yankees made it a game when Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira hit solo homers in the sixth inning, but they couldn't overcome a four-run second inning and lost to the Blue Jays, 6-3, at the Stadium Thursday night.
After the homers brought them within 5-3, the Yankees left men on second and third in the sixth and stranded a runner on second in the seventh and eighth. Carlos Beltran's double put runners on second and third with none out in the fourth, but the Yankees were unable to score.
"To win games, you have to hit with runners on . . . That's the difference in the game and that's the bottom line," Joe Girardi said, adding of Sabathia, "They just found some holes . . . We'll take that anytime. We'll take our chances when we're getting ground balls."
Sabathia showed signs of his old self, striking out eight and walking none in 5 2/3 innings, but he fell apart in a piecemeal four-run second. He also gave up an unearned run in the sixth.
With his fastball clocking in at about 89 mph, Sabathia allowed back-to-back ground-ball singles by Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson to begin the second. Then came the game-changer: Danny Valencia's potential double-play chopper flicked off Sabathia's glove and died on the grass for an infield hit, loading the bases. Kevin Pillar lined an RBI single to left, Steve Tolleson and Devon Travis had run-scoring groundouts and Jose Reyes added an RBI single.
"I had the double-play ball, I put my glove on it," Sabathia said. "It was just one of those things where we couldn't stop the bleeding . . . [but] we threw the ball pretty good. It was just bad luck."
Sabathia hadn't pitched in a regular-season game since last May 10 because of right knee inflammation that eventually required surgery. In that shortened season, his fastball averaged 89.6 mph (compared to 91.3 the year before and 94.1 in 2009, according to FanGraphs).
Girardi reworked his lineup against rookie lefty Daniel Norris, moving Rodriguez up to the No. 2 hole and using righthanded-hitting John Ryan Murphy, Gregorio Petit and Chris Young in place of lefthanded-hitting Brian McCann, Stephen Drew and Brett Gardner.
They didn't have much to show for it until the fifth, when Murphy doubled and scored on Gregorius' single. But there seemed to be little good news without some bad: Gregorius made his second baserunning gaffe in three games on the play, taking too wide a turn as the throw home was cut off and getting tagged out diving back into first.
In the sixth, Rodriguez blasted Norris' 1-and-0 fastball over the leftfield fence for his first home run since September 2013. It was the 655th homer of his career. Teixeira then hit copy and paste, mailing a 1-and-0 offering to nearly the same spot, making it 5-3.
Encarnacion homered off Esmil Rogers in the eighth.