DETROIT - Looking big picture, one big positive outweighed the negatives for the Yankees last night. They saw a version of lefthander CC Sabathia they haven't seen since Game 5 of the 2012 ALDS, when he was their unquestioned ace.

But short term, there was plenty to be frustrated about in a 2-1 loss to the Tigers on a damp, chilly night at Comerica Park.

Sabathia took a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning, courtesy of Mark Teixeira's fourth homer, before the Tigers -- who have the best record in the majors at 11-2 -- scored twice. The Yankees, who turned three double plays behind Sabathia, fell to 6-7.

"It's frustrating,'' said Sabathia (0-3), who allowed two runs and seven hits in eight innings to lower his ERA to 4.35 from 5.68. "Especially a 1-0, tight game, you kind of want to shut it down and get us back in the dugout.''

Speedy Rajai Davis led off the seventh with a single and took second on Ian Kinsler's fly ball to deep left, where Brett Gardner made the catch near the foul line. After Miguel Cabrera grounded out, the Yankees intentionally walked Victor Martinez, who had stung two balls that resulted in spectacular catches by Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury.

But the strategy did not pay off. J.D. Martinez sent a one-hop smash off the glove of shortstop Didi Gregorius. The hit allowed Davis to tie it at 1.

"CC pitched a really good game for us, and if I would have made that play, we would have gotten out of the inning,'' Gregorius said. "It's bad that I couldn't make the play.''

Yoenis Cespedes then banged a single up the middle and Ellsbury, not known for having the best of arms, chose not to try for the plodding Victor Martinez at the plate. He instead threw to third and J.D. Martinez was caught in a rundown for the final out. Victor Martinez scored ahead of the tag to make it 2-1.

"I just didn't think I had a shot at him,'' Ellsbury said.

Former Yankee Joba Chamberlain added to the drama in the eighth, entering with runners at the corners and one out after Gregorius' single on an 0-and-2 pitch. Chamberlain got Ellsbury to ground sharply into a 4-6-3 double play to end the threat.

"Got a good pitch to hit, everything you want,'' Ellsbury said. "I'll take 600 more of those swings the rest of the season. Unfortunately, I just hit it at the wrong person.''

Chamberlain replaced Alfredo Simon (3-0), who was terrific, allowing one run, seven hits and no walks and striking out seven in 71/3 innings. Joakim Soria pitched a scoreless ninth for his fifth save.

Still, the performance of the 34-year-old Sabathia was encouraging. He showed flashes of his pre-2013 self during his first two starts of the season but didn't come close to putting it together the way he did on this night. The Tigers came in tied for second in baseball in runs, and for the most part, he held them in check.

"I came in after one inning and told Chris Young, 'That should be illegal,' '' Sabathia said of the Tigers' lineup. "Once you think it's done, they've got more hitters coming.''

"He's right where he needs to be,'' catcher Brian McCann said. "Third straight start I think he looks great. Very encouraged.''

Added Joe Girardi: "It's unfortunate because I thought he threw the ball exceptional against a very tough lineup.''