NEW YORK -- After a couple of steps, Brett Gardner gave up hope. There was no reason to chase Sandy Leon's sixth-inning home run off CC Sabathia. It would travel 412 feet, according to Statcast™, before landing in the left-field seats at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.
Leon's blast proved to be exclamation point to the Red Sox's offensive output against Sabathia, who left one batter later having surrendered five runs (four earned) on nine hits and three walks in New York's 5-2 loss. The ineffective start marked the continuation of a downward turn for Sabathia, who surprised many with a productive start to the season.
The 35-year-old boasted a 2.20 ERA on June 16, seemingly on the forefront of a career renaissance. Since then, Sabathia has fallen off. By the end of Saturday, his ERA had risen to a 3.94 mark.
"It's frustrating for all of us," manager Joe Girardi said. "You tell a guy to keep making your pitches and keep making your pitches and it's going to change. Right now, the luck's not on his side."
On a Yankees team filled with question marks early in the season, Sabathia was viewed as one of the few constants. He had transformed himself from a power pitcher into a savvy veteran.
The rest of the rotation was floundering. Luis Severino was sent down to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Michael Pineda ended May with a 6.92 ERA, and Nathan Eovaldi is finally scheduled to return from the bullpen after a July demotion.
Sabathia's now winless in each of his past five starts, with Saturday marking his third defeat in the span. Girardi, though, insisted Sabathia "pitched a really good game." Rather, the loss was a product of some bad fortune.
"Five of [Boston's hits] were really soft. I'll take my chances if it's soft contact and believe that his luck's going to change," Girardi said. "I'd rather see that than the ball hit all over the place and maybe making plays."
"I don't want to change stuff and get out of sync," Sabathia said. "I feel good. I'll be out there in four days and be ready to go."
One of the Red Sox's runs came after a couple of soft infield singles in the fourth; Leon followed with an RBI single to put Boston up, 2-1. In the third inning, Bryce Brentz scored after reaching on a throwing error from Didi Gregorius, and Chase Headley committed a throwing error, too, two batters before Leon's game-clinching homer.
"He pitched a lot better than what it's going to look like," Girardi said.
Perhaps Girardi's evaluation of Sabathia is correct. Perhaps the 16-year veteran made good enough pitches to win Saturday. Perhaps a couple of fluky rolls and poor defense made for his undoing.
But, as Girardi has acknowledged, time is running out for the Yankees. With the loss, the Bombers fell to 9 1/2 games behind the first-place Orioles in the American League East, a deficit that has grown in tandem with Sabathia's swoon.
Joshua Needelman is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.