DUNEDIN, Fla. — It was all set up for the Yankees to make the Blue Jays sweat this one out.
And then it wasn’t.
After their sluggish offense finally started to come alive in the eighth inning, bringing the tying run to the plate, the Yankees found a new way to end a rally in a 7-3 loss to the Blue Jays at TD Ballpark, when Gary Sanchez got caught off first base.
The Yankees scored a pair of runs on a sharp Giancarlo Stanton single to get to within three runs, and when Sanchez followed with a two-out walk, Aaron Hicks came up.
Julian Merryweather’s second pitch briefly got away from catcher Danny Jansen, but Jansen pounced on it. Sanchez was caught between first and second and was tagged out by shortstop Bo Bichette.
It ended the best chance of the night for the Yankees, who couldn’t get anything going against Toronto starter Hyun Jin Ryu while Jameson Taillon got knocked around for five runs on eight hits in 3 ²/₃ innings in his second start back from his second Tommy John surgery.
There were long stretches without baserunners and a somewhat alarming knack for hitting into double plays.
But the Yankees were making the Blue Jays work late in the game when Hicks got to the plate after having drilled a double in his previous at-bat.
They rallied with hits from some of their batters who were stuck in the worst slumps. Clint Frazier led off the eighth with a line single to center that hit former Yankee David Phelps in the back, forcing the pitcher from the game.
After Jay Bruce struck out against Jordan Romano, DJ LeMahieu doubled to left-center, sending Frazier to third. The struggling Stanton — like Frazier, in an extended hitless streak until the eighth — then ripped a single to center to drive in both runners, bringing the Yankees to within 6-3.
Aaron Judge flied to right for the second out before Sanchez walked to end Romano’s night.
But that’s as close as the Yankees got, and they slipped back under .500 (5-6).
LeMahieu led off the game with an infield single to third, but Ryu retired the next dozen batters before Hicks singled to left with one out in the fifth.
Both hits were immediately erased when the Yankees hit into double plays, one by Stanton and another by Rougned Odor.
They ended the game having hit into 13 twin-killings on the season — the most in the majors.
LeMahieu took issue with a called third strike to start the fourth that appeared low and outside. The normally calm LeMahieu exchanged words with rookie home plate umpire Erich Bacchus.
But the Yankees’ lineup issues extend far beyond bad calls.
They’ve been stubbornly unable to produce with runners in scoring position and had their first chance to score in the sixth, when Bruce snapped an 0-for-15 skid with a two-out double to center and LeMahieu followed with a walk.
But Stanton hit a slow roller to Ryu for the final out.
It was also a discouraging second start back for Taillon, who missed most of 2019 and all of last season following a second Tommy John surgery in August 2019.
Acquired from the Pirates in January, Taillon had hoped revamped mechanics would not only keep him healthy, but also improve his repertoire.
That wasn’t the case Tuesday. After an eight-pitch first inning, Taillon loaded the bases with two out in the second.
He gave up a sharp leadoff single to center to Randal Grichuk and hit Lourdes Gurriel Jr. with a 1-2 four-seam fastball. After fanning Rowdy Tellez for the second out, Taillon walked Danny Jansen to fill the bases and earn a visit from pitching coach Matt Blake.
Josh Palacios then hit a chopper through the middle of the infield into center for a two-run single to give Toronto a 2-0 lead.
Taillon got Marcus Semien to pop to second to end the 34-pitch inning.
The Blue Jays added to their lead in the third thanks to some sloppy Yankees defense.
Odor couldn’t handle Bichette’s grounder to his right, and it deflected off his glove. Gio Urshela, starting his first game at shortstop since 2018, picked up the ball and threw it low to Bruce at first. Bruce couldn’t scoop it, and it ended up in the first base dugout, allowing Bichette to get to second.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s single to left sent Bichette to third, and he scored on a long sacrifice fly to right by Grichuk.
Cavan Biggio extended the rally with a single to right, but Taillon retired Gurriel and Tellez to end the inning.
The Yankees managed to scratch out an unearned run against Ryu in the seventh before coming up short in the eighth.