By Dave Buscema, The Sports Xchange
NEW YORK -- Yankee Stadium had grown quieter as the game continued, one stunning fact after the other humbling a team which had little reason for concern most of the season.
As the New York Yankees absorbed an 8-5 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, it suddenly became challenging to decide the most improbable scenario.
That the last-place Blue Jays, who entered the series on a seven-game losing streak and were without injured slugger Jose Bautista, had taken two of three?
That Yankees ace CC Sabathia, who hadn't lost to the Jays since 2007, had coughed up five runs on nine hits in seven innings?
Or, perhaps, the most startling, sobering one of all:
That, a win by the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night would put the second-place Orioles just 2 1/2 games back, entering their suddenly crucial weekend series in the Bronx.
The Yankees, who led the AL East by 10 games on July 18, now face the mathematical possibility of falling into second place by Monday.
Fittingly, one chance after the other was wasted Thursday, with the Yankees failing to get a runner in from second with one out or less in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
Down 6-4 in the eighth, the Yankees stirred when Raul Ibanez and Russell Martin hit back-to-back doubles to make it 6-5. But reliever Brandon Lyon recovered, and center fielder Colby Rasmus made a diving catch of Ichiro Suzuki's blooper for the first out. Lyon then struck out Eric Chavez and got Derek Jeter on a fly to right, the second time in three innings Jeter made the final out with the tying run on second.
Yunel Escobar then capped his day of Yankee killing; his two-run bloop double to right off Joba Chamberlain the ninth gave Toronto an 8-5 lead. It was Escobar's fourth hit of the game and fifth RBI, both tying career highs.
Sabathia (13-4) appeared to settle down after some early struggles, but the Blue Jays took a 5-4 lead in the sixth on Escobar's two-run homer. Escobar crushed a 3-2 pitch from Sabathia, who had given up a leadoff single to Adam Lind that slipped out of diving right fielder Andruw Jones' glove.
J.A. Happ (3-1) gave up four runs on four hits in five innings. Steve Delabar followed with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, including striking out Jeter to end the sixth with the tying run on second. Toronto then went up 6-4 on a sacrifice fly in the eighth.
Casey Janssen earned his 17th save of the season with a perfect ninth.
The Blue Jays pounded Sabathia with at least four hits in two innings, denting any aura of invincibility he owned against them in the three-run third.
The runs were officially unearned, due to third baseman Jayson Nix's error that put runners on first and second with no one out, but the Blue Jays did their part to put them on the board.
Nix also quickly made up for his miscue with a nice backhanded grab of Mike McCoy's grounder down the line. He stepped on third, then fired home, where catcher Chris Stewart tagged Jeff Mathis for a double play.
On the verge of escape, Sabathia instead allowed three straight hits. Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind drove in a pair of runs with bloop singles, and Escobar gave Toronto a 3-2 lead with a double down the left-field line.
The Yankees responded with two runs in the bottom of the third, taking advantage of a pair of walks by Happ, and a double by Curtis Granderson that initially froze left fielder Rajai Davis. The outfielder hesitated as Granderson's two-run hit flew over his head, and couldn't recover in time to make a play. The Yankees regained the lead, 4-3.
Jones, who had four hits in past 35 at-bats, responded immediately to manager Joe Girardi's decision to bat him cleanup to spark him out of his slump. His RBI single in his first at-bat gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead, before Granderson's RBI on a fielder's choice made it 2-0.
NOTES: Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte (fractured ankle) reported no problems after throwing off flat ground Tuesday and manager Joe Girardi said Pettitte could throw off a mound by the weekend. ... Blue Jays center fielder Colby Rasmus was given a day off against lefty Sabathia, though he entered the game later as a pinch hitter. Mike McCoy started in his place. ... After Thursday's day off, Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (13-9, 2.98 ERA) will oppose Orioles righty Miguel Gonzalez (5-3, 3.66) Friday as the teams begin their weekend showdown series at Yankee Stadium.