Fresh off a four-game sweep of Boston, New York aimed to roll forward against Toronto. And the Bombers did -- for a time. Sergio Mitre struck out the side in the first. Derek Jeter hit a leadoff home run. But the Yankees spent their next eight innings stuck in the letdown that they hoped would never occur.
Preceded by seven straight victories, their 5-4 defeat to the Blue Jays on Monday was hardly cause for concern -- hardly even reason to raise an eyebrow. It was merely a loss, and the Yankees see no reason to believe they'll be experiencing many more of those.
"A miscue cost us the game," manager Joe Girardi said. "I thought the effort was very good."
That miscue happened in the fourth inning, with two men on base and none out. After inducing a grounder off the bat of Jose Bautista, Mitre snagged the ball on the mound and whirled around in an attempt to start a double play.
Problem was, second baseman Robinson Cano had not yet reached the bag, causing Mitre to double clutch. And when Mitre finally did throw, the ball sailed wide of second base, off Cano's glove and into right field.
"I saw the replay, and I saw it wasn't my fault," Cano said. "The ball was running away from me. There's nothing I can do right there."
Bautista and Vernon Wells reached their respective bags safely, and Lyle Overbay came around to score. Moments later, Edwin Encarnacion's sacrifice fly and Joe Inglett's two-out triple turned Mitre's mistake into a three-run rally.
An inning later, Overbay broke a 4-4 tie with a homer off Mitre.
The Blue Jays had their lead, and they were not about to rescind it. And Mitre, who otherwise pitched passably in his attempt to hang onto the fifth-starter's role, took his first loss of the season.
"I just keep going back to that throw at second base," Mitre said.
"It would have been a different game," Cano agreed.
The Yanks still had their chances, considering they knocked Jays starter Marc Rzepczynski out of the game after just 3 1/3 innings, and considering Alfredo Aceves boosted them -- and spared the rest of the bullpen -- with four innings of shutout relief. But a quartet of Toronto relievers shut them down over the final six innings, hardly even allowing New York a semblance of a threat.
The offense, which all weekend had scored precisely the right amounts at precisely the right times, was suddenly silent, further illuminating that lone play in the fourth.
"What it goes to show you is this is the big leagues," outfielder Johnny Damon said. "You can't make mistakes."
Take Mitre, for example. Though he has insisted quite regularly that he is improving, and though he has flashed better movement on his sinker and breaking pitches, Mitre has nonetheless made critical mistakes in every one of his outings this season. Girardi, who insisted after Monday's game that Mitre's place in the rotation is secure, defended his fifth starter earlier this week by noting that the Yankees won three of his first four starts in that role.
But Mitre has hardly improved on paper, lasting no longer than five innings in any of his outings this season. And the Yankees, with Chad Gaudin in the bullpen and Josh Towers and Russ Ortiz in the Minor Leagues, suddenly have options.
They are options that Girardi has no intention to explore.
"Oh, yeah," he said after the game when asked if Mitre would make his next start.
Considering that Monday's game seemed to be the exception rather than the rule, the Yankees don't need much from their fifth starter. Their offense -- now on track to best the 2004 club's record of 242 home runs -- has bailed out plenty of mediocre pitching performances this season. It seems likely to bail out quite a few more.
And indeed, the offense attempted to do just that Monday. Jeter homered, singled and scored in the third inning and reached base four times. Cano and Jerry Hairston Jr. hit back-to-back homers in the fourth. And the Yankees put their leadoff runner on base in both the sixth and seventh innings.
But "the bullpen came through," as Toronto manager Cito Gaston put it, and New York could hardly complain. The Yankees had won seven straight heading into the game, or 18 of 23 for those with longer memories. And after the game, they spoke like a team that knows it will win again.
"That's going to happen," Girardi said. "We're not going to be perfect. And their bullpen came in and did a nice job."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.