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Yankees can't sweep Athletics, but keep one-game lead

Alex Rodriguez reacts after flying out in the

Alex Rodriguez reacts after flying out in the ninth inning during a game against the Oakland Athletics. (Sept. 23, 2012) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The out-of-town scoreboard in the Bronx displayed the golden opportunity in the eighth inning Sunday.

Baltimore had just lost in Boston, 2-1; a Yankees' win would extend their American League East lead to two games. Instead, with a 5-4 loss, the Yankees remained one game ahead of the Orioles with 10 games left in the regular season -- and their next seven on the road.

Down by a run to the Oakland A's, the Yankees had the tying run on second with one out in the eighth. But shortstop Eduardo Nuñez, who had a tough day in the field with two errors, struck out, and Derek Jeter, who extended his hitting streak to 17 games with a sixth-inning single, grounded out to short.

Then, facing closer Grant Balfour in the ninth, the Yankees went down 1-2-3. Ichiro Suzuki lined out to left, Alex Rodriguez, who was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts, sent Josh Reddick to the base of the rightfield wall, and Robinson Cano took a called strike three and the Yankees' seven-game home winning streak ended.

"I thought it had a chance," manager Joe Girardi said of Rodriguez's fly. "It needed about another three feet; it just didn't have it."

Neither did the normally reliable Hiroki Kuroda, who struggled with his control as Ivan Nova did on Saturday. He uncorked two wild pitches -- the first sent Stephen Drew home from third in the first inning -- and allowed five runs (four earned) on seven hits and three walks in 52/3 innings.

"I wanted to try and hit the corners," Kuroda said. "Because of the game [which went 14 innings on Saturday], I wanted to go longer, but unfortunately, I couldn't."

Girardi said Kuroda (14-11, 3.34), who has allowed at least four earned runs in his last three starts at home, lacked command. "He left some off-speed pitches in the middle of the plate, which you don't want to do. He's keeping us in the games. We had some chances, we just weren't able to come through."

After Josh Donaldson reached on a grounder to deep short (although Nuñez's throw appeared to beat him by a step) in the second, Girardi began chirping from the dugout. The manager also wasn't pleased with an ankle-high called third strike on Rodriguez in the bottom of the first. Cliff Pennington then ripped a two-run homer to right on a 1-and-0 pitch from Kuroda.

"It's one run and we lost by one run," Girardi said. "I always say that's the hardest play for me to see, the bang-bang play. But I thought he was out by about a step. I didn't even think it was close. It's unfortunate."

The Yankees erased a 3-0 deficit with four runs in the fourth. With one out, Cano made it to second on his opposite-field single to left when Seth Smith failed to barehand the ball, then Nick Swisher yanked a pitch into the second deck in right for his 22nd homer to cut the A's lead to 3-2. Curtis Granderson followed with a single to right and went to second when Donaldson couldn't get Russell Martin's soft grounder out of his glove. Raul Ibañez, who homered twice Saturday, doubled down the rightfield line, scoring Granderson. Martin scored for the 4-3 lead when Nuñez grounded out to second for the second out.

But Kuroda surrendered the tying run in the next inning, after he wild-pitched Pennington to third and he trotted home on Yoenis Cespedes' single to right-center.

Nuñez was the culprit on the deciding run in the sixth. He spun after scooping Donaldson's grounder up the middle and fired well past Swisher. Pennington's third hit scored Donaldson for the 5-4 lead. That was it for Kuroda and a 7-2 homestand.

Next stop: Minnesota for three games and Toronto for four. "We don't want to back into it," Eric Chavez said. "We want to gain some momentum."

Girardi admitted he was aware of the Orioles' misstep.

"We see the scoreboard all year long," he said. "Do you look at it with a little more importance now? Sure. We've got to carry over what we did here on the road."

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