After manager Joe Torre held a closed-door session with players for more than 40 minutes, New York managed little against Toronto starter Dustin McGowan, who turned in his longest career effort with 7 2/3 innings before Hideki Matsui broke up the shutout with a two-run homer.
The Yankees have lost seven of 10 as they open a 10-game, three-city road trip that will also take them to Boston and Chicago. Now 13 1/2 games behind the American League East-leading Red Sox, Torre said the losing is growing difficult to watch.
"It's tough," Torre said. "This game has taught me a lot of things. The one thing that continues to motivate me is the fact that you have to keep working at it.
"There's no such thing as quit, because that's the last thing anyone wants in here. I believe in the talent in this ballclub. We're just digging ourselves a big hole that we've got to find a way to climb out of."
The Yankees fell to a season-low seven games under .500 at 21-28, and managed just five hits, including two infield singles. While the non-response to the closed-door meeting proved notable, the Yankees seemed inclined to offer more credit to McGowan than to pile blame upon themselves.
"The kid's got electric stuff," said Doug Mientkiewicz, who went 0-for-3. "I don't care how badly we're swinging, to do that to this lineup, it's pretty impressive."
Working ahead in the count often, McGowan earned his first victory as a starter since Aug. 9, 2005, posting a career-high seven strikeouts in a 117-pitch performance.
Mixing a mid-90s fastball with a diving changeup, McGowan allowed just five hits -- two by shortstop Derek Jeter -- and stymied the Yankees early, stranding runners in scoring position in three of the first four innings.
"He's throwing what, 96, 97, and never throwing the ball straight," Jeter said. "He's throwing balls that are sinking in and cutting away. You couldn't be too patient with him, because it seemed like everything he was throwing seemed like it was a strike."
The Yankees' two runs came on McGowan's final pitch, as Matsui connected for a two-run homer to right-center in the eighth -- Matsui's fifth of the season and a shot that Torre hoped could kick-start both the outfielder and the team, whose struggles have run parallel.
But the blast was rendered a mere footnote by a four-run Toronto seventh inning against relievers Ron Villone and Mike Myers. Matsui said that he didn't know what could eventually get the Yankees going, or for that matter, what the holdup is.
"I'm not really sure," Matsui said through an interpreter. "I think everyone's just playing hard. We're trying to win a game, but it's just not quite coming by."
The Blue Jays bested rookie starter Matt DeSalvo, who suffered his second loss in his fourth Major League start. The 26-year-old right-hander (1-2) navigated through the first two innings before allowing a solo home run to Lyle Overbay in the third inning.
"I had a good fastball today," DeSalvo said. "Early in the game, I was throwing strikes to both sides of the plate with my fastball, and I was getting my slider over well. That last inning, I got into a little funk and lost control of the strike zone."
Torre said that DeSalvo has performed well given the workload asked of him. Removed from the Yankees' 40-man roster in January, DeSalvo's stock surged with a strong start at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but his five appearances (one in relief) on the Major League roster have made it apparent that further seasoning would be helpful.
"In all fairness to him, we're borrowing him right now," Torre said. "He's filling a void that we have. He certainly made a lot of progress from last year, but we're asking him to do a lot right now."
Troy Glaus doubled to open the fourth and scored on an Aaron Hill single, and Overbay picked up a second RBI in the fifth by doubling home Royce Clayton.
DeSalvo was lifted after loading the bases via a hit, walk and hit batsman in the fifth, but reliever Luis Vizcaino came on to strike out Frank Thomas and escape further damage. DeSalvo allowed three runs and five hits in 4 2/3 innings, walking three and striking out two.
The score held until Villone and Myers teamed to let the game slip away. Glaus ripped a bases-loaded single to center and Thomas worked a RBI walk against Villone, and Hill greeted Myers with a two-run single to right to complete the Blue Jays' scoring.
As the Yankees gathered their belongings and headed out the clubhouse doors winless for the fourth consecutive day, their spirits were only mildly boosted by muffled reports of Roger Clemens' third Minor League appearance some 380 miles away in Moosic, Pa.
Yes, the Rocket struck out six and made his strongest statement yet that he's ready to ride into the Yankees' clubhouse to lend a hand. But the Yankees aren't waiting for Clemens' Hall of Fame arm and Texas twang to right all that's been wrong.
They'll need to handle that on their own, and for their sakes, soon.
"We can't worry about when Rocket's coming," Jeter said. "Rocket's not swinging the bat, and he pitches like every five days. You hope he does well, you want him to come here, but you can't sit around and wait for him."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.