Innings before Chicago's DeWayne Wise took the flair out of a two-out ninth-inning Nick Swisher homer by driving in the winning run off reliever Phil Coke, Pettitte couldn't corral a check-swing roller up the first-base line hit by Jim Thome, stumbling and falling as he tried to extend a tag.
"That ended up being a huge play in the game," Pettitte said. "I'm not winning when I pitch right now, and that's frustrating."
An out after Pettitte's slip, third baseman Alex Rodriguez couldn't handle an A.J. Pierzynski smash that was originally scored an error before being revised by the official scorer as a hit.
That chased Pettitte, who offered the Yankees 6 1/3 very sharp innings in locking up with opposing hurler Gavin Floyd. Phil Hughes came in from the bullpen and got Carlos Quentin to bounce the ground ball the Yankees needed.
But Pierzynski slid in hard to second baseman Robinson Cano, who dropped to a lower arm angle and could only plant a four-finger grip on the ball. His throw sailed wide, and Thome chugged home, needing every second as Mark Teixeira retrieved the ball on the wet grass behind first base.
"If I had a good grip on the ball, I bet you it would have been right in [Pierzynski's] mouth," Cano said.
Cano said that Pierzynski didn't make contact and that he thought the play was clean, but with a wink, added, "Now I'll know when he comes again."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi didn't take issue with Pierzynski's slide.
"That's just good hard baseball," Girardi said. "I don't have a problem with that. We want our guys to do that, too."
Seeing the Yankees trailing -- again -- in a game he'd pitched well was tough to swallow for Pettitte. On Saturday in New York, Girardi left Pettitte in against the A's in the seventh inning only to watch the frame come apart.
This time, the hook came, and the Yankees still got less-than-desired results on an evening when the 37-year-old lefty had all of his stuff working, using a crisp cutter to keep pace with Floyd as the two starters struck out a combined 18 batters.
"I think he's pitched really well in the second half," Girardi said. "He threw the ball well and had command of all his pitches. He had a really good cutter tonight and spotted his fastball well. It's unfortunate we didn't score him any runs."
Each starter allowed only one earned run, with Pettitte surrendering an RBI double to Gordon Beckham in the third inning and Floyd rapped for a Jose Molina ground-rule double and a Johnny Damon single in the sixth.
Pettitte struck out eight and walked none in the 101-pitch, five-hit start, surpassed by Floyd's 10 punchouts, four hits and one free pass. In his past three starts, Pettitte has limited opponents to six earned runs in 20 innings -- a 2.70 ERA -- with little to show for it.
"What's sad is I felt better about it whenever I was winning games," Pettitte said. "Wins are what matters. I'm glad I'm feeling comfortable and throwing my pitches for strikes, and my cutter's back. Hopefully, I can just keep it going."
Down to their final out, the Yankees got new life when Swisher's solo home run off Matt Thornton fell into the left-field bleachers, keeping the Bombers going for at least another half-inning.
It was a big blast for Swisher, who had struck out in his first three plate appearances on Thursday. He pumped his fist rounding first base. Dealt by Chicago to New York in November, Swisher clashed with Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen and fell out of favor on the South Side.
The good feelings were short-lived, as Hughes continued on in his third inning and allowed one-out singles to Thome and Paul Konerko. Coke came on in relief with Hughes' 25 1/3-inning scoreless streak on the line.
"Nights like tonight go to show that you can throw the ball well, but it doesn't tell the whole story," Hughes said. "Things just happen. I've been throwing the ball well, and hopefully I continue to do that."
Coke got the second out of the ninth, but Wise connected with a single to center field, setting off fireworks in the Chicago sky and snapping a string of success that had taken Hughes 16 previous relief outings to assemble.
"It was a good stretch," Hughes said. "I'll start a new one."