The Yankees entered the game with pressing questions about CC Sabathia's lack of firepower -- namely, could the 34-year-old righthander, 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 to compensate for the ebbs and flows of the game, or will their lack of production nullify even a promising pitching performance?
The Yankees made it a ballgame after sixth-inning solo homers by Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, but ultimately couldn't bounce back from a rocky second inning, losing the rubber game of the series, 6-3, to the Blue Jays Thursday night.
The Yankees left two runners, including the tying run, in scoring position in the sixth, and stranded Didi Gregorius on second base in the seventh.
Sabathia showed signs of his old self, striking out eight in 5 2/3 innings, but fell apart badly in that piecemeal, four-run inning. He also gave up an unearned run in the sixth.
With his fastball clocking in at around 89 mph, Sabathia let up back-to-back ground-ball singles by Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson to kick off the second. Then, the game-changer: Danny Valencia's chopper flicked off Sabathia's glove and died on the grass for the infield hit, loading the bases and killing the potential double play. Kevin Pillar then lined a single to left to score Encarnacion, and Steve Tolleson and Devon Travis grounded out to the right side of the infield for RBIs.
Jose Reyes singled to right to drive in Pillar from third to cap the four-run frame.
A small victory: This was, at least, better than spring training, where Sabathia struggled mightily, mostly, he said, because he was still tinkering with his repertoire. Still, there's no denying that the velocity on his fastball has dropped consistently since 2011.
Sabathia hadn't pitched in a regular-season game since last May 10, thanks to the right knee inflammation that eventually shut him down for the season and led to arthroscopic surgery. In that shortened season, his fastball averaged 89.6 mph (compared to 91.3 the year before and 94.3 in 2009, according to FanGraphs).
Manager Joe Girardi tried to give Sabathia as much support as possible, reworking his lineup to face lefty rookie Daniel Norris. He moved Rodriguez up to the No. 2 hole, and hit John Ryan Murphy, Gregorio Petit and Chris Young in place of Brian McCann, Stephen Drew and Brett Gardner.
Girardi didn't have much to show for it until the fifth, when Gregorius singled in Young to get the Yankees on the board. But there seemed to be little good news without some bad: Gregorius committed his second baserunning gaffe in three games on the play, taking too wide of a turn after his single and getting tagged out diving back into first.
In the sixth, Rodriguez blasted Norris' 1-and-0 fastball to the left-centerfield bleachers for his first home run and second hit of the season. It was the 655th home run of his career. Teixeira hit copy and paste -- mailing a 1-and-0 offering to nearly the same spot, drawing the Yankees to 5-3.