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Late sac fly downs Yanks in Toronto

Late sac fly downs Yanks in Toronto

TORONTO -- Johnny Damon charged down the first-base line, ripping past artificial turf as fast as his aching 33-year-old frame would carry him, just in case the Yankees had some unforeseen gasp of hope.

And as Damon was retired on a routine putout, ending the Blue Jays' 3-2 victory at Rogers Centre on Tuesday, the center fielder skidded his batting gloves disgustedly across the roof of the dugout, bounced his helmet and disappeared from view.

New York's season, it seems, is in danger of doing the same. The Yankees fell eight games below .500 with their fifth straight loss, suffering the indignity of watching Toronto's Aaron Hill successfully steal home plate on starter Andy Pettitte in the seventh inning.

"It seems like we're losing in every way possible," Damon said, "and tonight was no different."

Alex Rios' eighth-inning sacrifice fly brought home Adam Lind with the eventual winning run for the Blue Jays, who pushed ahead late and squelched a Yankees rally to pull out the victory.

Rios' drive to Damon in deep center came off reliever Scott Proctor, who came on after Pettitte threw the first 7 1/3 innings, but it was Hill's steal of home plate that had the 34-year-old left-hander mimicking his pitching motion and racking his brain after the game.

"I didn't think you could lose an American League ballgame like that," said Pettitte, who said he felt he'd been "taken advantage of."

With runners on the corners in the seventh, Pettitte had his back to third base -- his attention focused on slow-footed Jason Phillips at first base -- and Hill seized the opportunity, moving into a walking lead.

From halfway down the third-base line, Hill broke for the plate, jarring catcher Jorge Posada from his crouch. Posada was screaming, but so were 30,116 other voices within the Rogers Centre walls, so the first frenzied cries Pettitte recognized were that of first baseman Josh Phelps.

Believing for a split second that he'd been called for a balk, Pettitte hesitated before breaking contact with the rubber, throwing home too late to nail Hill, who slid in safely with his first career steal of the plate.

"It's embarrassing," Pettitte said, "a guy is able to get home and cost you a ballgame."

Even after Hill worked his way onto nationwide highlight shows, the Yankees answered back to tie the game in the eighth, offered a helping hand by Toronto's defense.

Derek Jeter reached on an infield bouncer that pitcher Casey Janssen couldn't handle, and one out later, Alex Rodriguez chopped a ball off the turf that tipped off the glove of third baseman John McDonald.

Jorge Posada, the AL's leading hitter entering play Tuesday, cashed in the tying run, ripping a single to right-center over a leaping stab by Hill at second base, and Posada later admitted he thought the tensions of the Yankees' lengthy skid had been shattered.

But Jeremy Accardo came on in relief and slammed the door, striking out Jason Giambi and retiring Bobby Abreu on a groundout to end the inning. The Blue Jays struck back immediately against Pettitte to open the eighth, as Lind doubled to the wall in left-center and was bunted along to third.

With Pettitte removed from a 107-pitch effort Torre called "courageous" -- "It must have been like 300 [pitches], because every single pitch means something," he said -- Rios greeted Proctor with the decisive flyout.

Damon never had a chance to gun down the runner, who crossed home with the only earned run charged to Pettitte over a six-hit, three-strikeout effort.

"Tough to swallow, that's for sure," Pettitte said. "I didn't pitch well enough."

The Yankees' first run came off the bat of Giambi, who spoke before the game about needing to drive the ball and said he planned to spend a future off-day receiving a cortisone injection.

After Toronto starter Shaun Marcum blanked the Yankees over six innings, limiting New York to just two hits in a 95-pitch effort, Giambi immediately greeted reliever Scott Downs with an opposite-field home run, his seventh, to tie the game at 1.

With the Yankees grasping at straws for something, anything, to shake up the losing monotony, Giambi was even sent into a rare job description, running on Marcum's 3-2 pitch to Abreu in the second inning.

Abreu struck out swinging, but Giambi successfully stole second and moved to third as the ball ticked off shortstop Royce Clayton's glove. Even that lumbering grit couldn't translate into production, though, as Doug Mientkiewicz grounded out to end the inning.

"Everybody seems to want to do it themselves," Torre said. "You can't do it that way. We need to have a game where we have a little fun. We haven't been able to do that."

The Yankees' search to change their luck even extended to their pregame routines, as the club took full infield practice for the first time since Spring Training.

The drills may have created a momentary diversion, accomplishing Torre's intention of keeping minds off the losing streak, but they didn't seem to serve a functional purpose, as the Yankees committed two errors in the defeat.

"This is the longest that we've struggled, but any time you struggle a little bit, you try to do something to shake things up," Jeter said.

Torre said that far too many Yankees have been pressing during this extended skid, which has seen them lose 13 of 18 and settle into a tie for last place in the American League East.

"It just hasn't happened," Torre said. "We just have to keep plugging. We've heard this story before."

A lightening of the mood is necessary to release tension, but unfortunately for the Yankees, the easiest way to do that is to win a ballgame.

That, as they've learned nightly, hasn't been easy at all.

"It's not for a lack of effort, that's for sure," Pettitte said. "Right now, I think everybody's kind of scratching their heads."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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