Marwin González of the Yankees reacts after striking out in...

Marwin González of the Yankees reacts after striking out in the third inning against the Guardians at Progressive Field on Sunday in Cleveland. Credit: Getty Images/Nick Cammett

CLEVELAND — It is a line players and managers use more often than their fan bases would like during the course of a season, true as it often is.

“Sometimes you have to tip your cap” to the opposition.

That was the case Sunday when Guardians righthander Triston McKenzie handcuffed the Yankees for seven innings, sending them to a 2-0 loss at Progressive Field. McKenzie and two relievers held the Yankees to one hit, a single by Josh Donaldson in the fourth inning,

McKenzie (5-6, 3.71) walked one and struck out seven. “Their guy was really good,” said Jordan Montgomery, who himself was pretty good, allowing one run, three hits and three walks with eight strikeouts in five innings. “He executed at the top of the zone with the heater and then threw a curveball that looked really good. We just kind of ran into a guy on a good day.”

The Yankees (58-22) ended their stretch of 20 games without a day off with a 14-6 record against the Rays, Blue Jays, Astros, A’s and Guardians, with five of the losses by one or two runs (15 of their losses this season have been by two or fewer runs).

After Eli Morgan struck out two in a perfect eighth, the Yankees, who lead MLB with 26 comeback victories, couldn’t quite come through. They loaded the bases in the ninth against Emmanuel Clase — one of the few relievers who has been in Clay Holmes’ class this season — on two walks and an error, but Aaron Hicks grounded out on an 0-and-2 slider to end it as Clase earned his 19th save.

“Middle in right there that I just got on top of,” said Hicks, who had a big two-out, two-run single in Saturday’s Game 1 victory. “You don’t expect him to throw three sliders in a row and I just got jammed trying to hit the ball up the middle.”

The Yankees lost with a starting lineup that didn’t include Aaron Judge and DJ LeMahieu. LeMahieu pinch hit in the eighth for Isiah Kiner-Falefa and flied to right. Aaron Boone left his Judge bullet unfired until the ninth, allowing Joey Gallo to bat in the eighth (Gallo struck out). Judge wound up pinch hitting for Jose Trevino with two outs in the ninth and walked to load the bases for Hicks.

“I really wanted to stay away from Judge going into the game today,” said Boone, who wanted to get him two full days off (the Yankees are off Monday before starting a two-game series in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night). “I was staying disciplined today . . . I didn’t want to have to play him in the field if I didn’t have to.”

Montgomery (3-2, 3.19) took the tough-luck loss. His lone mistake was a 1-and-1 curveball that Franmil Reyes hit into the bleachers in left leading off the fourth.

“They fouled some good pitches off,” he said. “But a couple of hitters I threw some non-competitive pitches and got myself in a hole. But overall I’m pretty happy with it. I got some quick outs, so it kind of evened out the longer ABs. The shapes of everything was good. Three hits — two singles and a homer — not always going to be perfect.”

Reyes singled home a run with two outs in the eighth to make it 2-0. The Guardians had runners on first and third with none out but nearly ran themselves out of the inning, thanks to a 4-2-3 double play in which Trevino made a nice pick of LeMahieu’s throw in the dirt, reached back to tag out Steven Kwan at home, saw Gabriel Arias too far off first base (with Amed Rosario occupying second) and ran at Arias to begin a brief, easy rundown. However, Reyes came through against Albert Abreu, who allowed a runner he inherited from JP Sears to score.

“I think we played good baseball,” Boone said of the just-completed 20-game stretch. “Obviously, we played a lot of good teams, including finishing here with the Guardians. Tough stretch. Some tough travel, some middle-of-the-night situations, day games after night games. I thought we played well through it. I know everyone’s looking forward to that day off.”

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