Losing series in Toronto unexpected

Who would have thought the Yankees would stall in Toronto? They came to Rogers Centre having won 12 of 13 games against the Blue Jays this year but dropped two of three after having done the same in the previous stop at St. Petersburg, Fla. As the calendar days wear down, the Yankees can ill afford losing series.

The 7-2 loss Wednesday night pushed the Yankees 5 ½ games behind in the wild-card chase, which is their only realistic shot at a piece of the postseason since they are 8 ½ games out of first place in the American League East. This loss was especially painful considering the pitching matchup.

The Yankees had Hiroki Kuroda, who has emerged as their ace this season, going against Todd Redmond, a 28-year-old journeyman righthander who has spent nine years in the minor leagues. You’d have bet the ranch on Kuroda – and you would have lost.

It is fair to say now after three subpar starts that Kuroda has hit a wall. The righthander was down 7-0 by the third inning, although two of the runs were unearned due to a bizarre play by the normally reliable Chris Stewart behind the plate. After a passed ball that went back to the screen, Stewart threw wildly to first base for an error that allowed two runners to score.

Kuroda was already in trouble by then. A terrific, diving play by shortstop Derek Jeter kept the first inning from being truly disastrous as if four runs were not enough. Before Stew’s blunder, Kuroda gave up hard-hit doubles to Ryan Goins and Brett Lawrie, walked one batter and hit another.

A four-run, deficit with eight innings to go is not the uphill climb that would have faced the Yankees before their lineup became fortified by the returns of Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez and the additions of Alfonso Soriano and Mark Reynolds. Redmond (2-2) gave up run-scoring hits to A-Rod and Reynolds but shut down most of the rest of the order for 5 2/3 innings. Three relievers stopped the Yankees on two hits over the next 3 1/3 scoreless innings.

The Yankees were poised for a big inning in the fourth but a questionable send of A-Rod by third base coach Rob Thompson choked the rally. Rodriguez after two hip surgeries does not run the way he once did and was thrown out at the plate.

Reynolds, the nouveau second baseman, had three of the Yankees’ five hits. He made his first start at the position since he was in the minors eight years ago and did a respectable job. If nothing else, manager Joe Girardi found out he can use Reynolds at that position in the future if an emergency calls for it. Eduardo Nunez was in the original lineup but was a late scratch due to soreness in his right knee that he injured Tuesday night. Robinson Cano, who was hit in the left hand by a pitch Tuesday night, is expected back in the lineup Friday night when the Yankees open a weekend series against the Orioles.

As for Kuroda, he made it through five innings, but the results were not pleasant – nine hits, seven runs (five earned), one walk, four strikeouts, one home run (by Edwin Encarnacion, his 34th, an absolute bomb).

It was the third straight shaky start for Kuroda, whose ERA over that stretch has gone from 2.33 to 2.89. In his past three starts, Kuroda is 1-2 with an 8.10 ERA in 16 2/3 innings. Thursday’s open date allows Girardi to give his starting pitchers an extra day of rest in the rotation. Kuroda certainly seems in need of it.

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