Making his first regular-season start after signing a seven-year, $161 million contract with New York in December, Sabathia was roughed up for eight hits in 4 1/3 innings, lifted after forcing in Baltimore's sixth run with a bases-loaded walk.
"That's surprising, because he threw the ball so well for us in Spring Training," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's going to happen. Sometimes, you're not always going to have your rhythm, and today, he didn't have it."
After Sabathia threw two wild pitches in his first inning as a Yankee, Adam Jones touched the lefty for a two-run triple in the third, ripping an inside fastball up the gap in right-center field. Nick Markakis followed with a sacrifice fly.
Baltimore added three runs in a lengthy fifth inning, with two scoring on an infield single by Markakis and an RBI groundout by Aubrey Huff. With first base open, the Yankees intentionally walked Ty Wigginton to load the bases, and Sabathia got ahead of Luke Scott, 0-2, before losing him on a walk, forcing in Baltimore's sixth run.
"It was just the command of the fastball," Sabathia said. "Everything I throw is off my fastball -- my changeup, my cutter, my two-seamer. When I can't find the command of that and can't get ahead of guys, it's pretty difficult for me."
Sabathia's distrust of his fastball was so great at that point, catcher Jorge Posada called for four consecutive sliders to Scott. Sabathia walked five in the 96-pitch outing, turning in just his fifth career start without recording a strikeout and his first since July 19, 2005.
"He's a fastball pitcher, so obviously when he doesn't have command of his fastball, we've got to go somewhere else," Posada said. "We threw a lot of sliders, a lot of changeups. They were laying off tough pitches down in the zone."
Television cameras showed Sabathia holding a heating pad against his rib cage, but the ace said he was "just trying to keep warm" and that there were no injury concerns.
"He said he felt great," Girardi said. "Sometimes, you feel great, and the results aren't what you want. He said he was fine."
Trailing, 6-1, when Sabathia left, the Yankees touched right-hander Jeremy Guthrie for three runs on seven hits over six innings.
Posada cracked a 420-foot solo home run, his first, leading off the sixth, and Xavier Nady drilled a ground-rule RBI double on fan interference before overrunning a stop sign later in the inning, nabbed while passing third base on a Derek Jeter single to end the frame.
Hideki Matsui greeted O's reliever Chris Ray with a two-run homer in the seventh to close the gap to one run, but that was as close as the Yankees would get.
Booed all afternoon by the Baltimore crowd after spurning a local contract offer to sign with New York, Mark Teixeira had his biggest chance in the eighth inning with two men on. But Jim Johnson got the slugger to bounce into an inning-ending fielder's choice, finishing Teixeira's day at 0-for-4.
"It was an opportunity for him," Girardi said. "I don't think that's the defining moment of Mark Teixeira's Yankees career. He's going to be here a long time, and he's going to do a lot of great things."
In the eighth, Cesar Izturis belted a two-run homer off Phil Coke that just eluded the grasp of Damon in left field, snagged by a fan in the front row.
Girardi briefly came out to argue, but he was told by the umpiring crew that the ball was clearly in the seats, and the skipper never requested that the umpires view a replay, saying that he did not see a strong reaction from Damon.
Later in the inning, Huff greeted Damaso Marte with a two-run double to blow the game wide open and send the Yankees to the ninth inning down by five runs.
"It's unfortunate," Damon said. "Who knows what would have happened in the ninth inning being down one? They still had the lead, but coming back from one run is definitely a lot easier than trying to get five."