TORONTO - In a season of brutal losses for the Yankees, Sunday's might have topped them all.
Staked to a three-run lead and pitching a two-hit shutout through 52/3 innings, Brandon McCarthy was buried by a sudden outburst of power as the Yankees lost to the Blue Jays, 4-3, in front of 45,678 at Rogers Centre.
After striking out the side on 11 pitches in the fifth and recording two groundouts to start the sixth, McCarthy allowed three solo homers in a span of four batters as the Blue Jays tied it.
"Everything happened so fast," Francisco Cervelli said.
After McCarthy walked Dioner Navarro with none out in the seventh, Dellin Betances struck out Colby Rasmus and Danny Valencia on seven pitches. But pinch runner Steve Tolleson stole second and scored what proved to be the winning run on Munenori Kawasaki's single.
The Yankees (70-65), who went 3-4 on their trip, fell nine games behind the AL East-leading Orioles but remained 31/2 games out in the race for the second wild card. After a day off Monday, they start a nine-game homestand Tuesday against Boston. "Real important," Joe Girardi said. "We have nine games at home and we have to win a lot of them."
Sunday's game ended with Casey Janssen getting Derek Jeter to line out softly to second with Ichiro Suzuki on third.
Just before that, pinch hitter Jacoby Ellsbury, returning after spraining an ankle Friday night, blooped a one-out double to right, and Ichiro pinch ran for him. Brett Gardner, a single away from hitting for the cycle, grounded to first to bring Jeter to the plate. "Those are the fun situations. You want to be in those situations," Jeter said. "I always like those positions, but he was better than me this time."
The Yankees exceeded Saturday's run total when Gardner homered on J.A. Happ's second pitch of the game and exceeded Saturday's hit total when Jeter singled on the fourth pitch. Cervelli had a two-out RBI single in the fourth and Gardner tripled and scored on Jose Reyes' errant relay throw in the fifth.
"A 3-0 lead through [five], you need to take that one home," said McCarthy (5-4, 2.80).
Melky Cabrera began the two-out onslaught in the sixth with his fifth homer against his former team this season and 16th overall. Three pitches later, Jose Bautista homered for the fifth straight game, his 29th.
Edwin Encarnacion's 28th homer, a leadoff shot in the seventh, tied it at 3. It came on a 3-and-2 pitch, one that neither Girardi nor McCarthy felt should have been needed. Both thought his 2-and-2 fastball was a strike.
"It was right down the middle," said McCarthy, who had allowed three homers in 581/3 innings in nine previous starts with the Yankees. "The pitch after that is terrible and that one has to be executed much better, but it's disappointing. It gets Encarnacion out of the box and puts us just a little bit closer to getting the win."
That, and what the Yankees considered an erratic strike zone in general by Chad Fairchild, led to bench coach Tony Peña's ejection before the top of the eighth. Said Girardi: "We weren't real happy with the strike zone."
With two outs in the seventh and Tolleson on second, Kawasaki grounded a single to right. Carlos Beltran came up throwing, but it was to the first-base side of the plate. Tolleson slipped his hand across the plate just before the diving Cervelli could tag him, making it 4-3.
Cervelli initially thought he had Tolleson, but after seeing the replay, he realized Fairchild got the call right. For what it's worth, he wasn't all that hot at Fairchild regarding the 2-and-2 pitch to Encarnacion, either.
"I thought it was a strike, but you have to keep playing baseball," Cervelli said. "Disappointed with the call, but we're all human. That's going to happen during the game. But we have to keep playing baseball, we have to keep scoring runs. I don't think that is an excuse."