Limited to three runs in 6 1/3 innings by Cincinnati starter Homer Bailey, the Yankees nearly erased a three-run deficit in the ninth inning, peppering closer Sean Marshall in an ineffective outing.
Nick Swisher snapped the Yankees' 0-for-22 drought with runners in scoring position by lacing an RBI single to center field, and Jayson Nix moved New York within one run with an RBI single to left.
Derek Jeter legged out a potential double-play ball, but Jose Arredondo induced Curtis Granderson to chop weakly to first base for the final out. The Yankees have lost four of five games and own just five hits in their last 55 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
"I think everyone just tries to pick everyone up," Alex Rodriguez said. "I'm very proud of the way the guys went out and swung the bats. We had a strong finish in the eighth and ninth, but overall, hitting is contagious. Guys are probably putting a little bit of pressure [on themselves]."
The Yankees cleared the fences twice against Bailey, as Russell Martin clubbed his fourth homer of the season in the third inning and Nix added his second of the campaign in the fifth. But both were solo blasts, with Raul Ibanez's fourth-inning RBI double also denting Bailey, who scattered seven hits.
A crosswind in right field knocked down what could have been homers for Jeter and Rodriguez, and so the Yankees weren't able to muster enough support behind Nova's interesting -- if not winning -- performance.
"When he did get hit, they made them count, that's for sure," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He didn't have a lot of luck on his side today."
Nova's 12 strikeouts marked the most by a Yankees pitcher since CC Sabathia fanned 14 last July 26 against the Mariners. He became the first Yanks hurler since Don Brennan in 1933 to strike out at least 12 while allowing at least five earned runs.
"He was just trying to execute pitches," Martin said. "That's a lot of [punchouts], but he had a good slider going, had a good breaking ball, his curveball was good too. He's got good stuff. Really, that one at-bat against Votto, that's the one that hurt him the most."
Brandon Phillips notched a first-inning RBI single to put Cincinnati on the board, while Devin Mesoraco and Chris Heisey doubled off Nova in the second inning to produce the second Reds run.
In the fifth, two singles and a fielder's choice -- a play that Rodriguez bobbled, though he probably wouldn't have had time for a double play -- set up a 2-1 offering to Votto, which Nova grooved in the heart of the plate and was blasted into the right-field seats.
"He throws pretty hard," Votto said. "Most guys with good breaking balls that throw hard generally strike out more hitters."
But strikeouts aren't the intended effect for Nova, who has now allowed five earned runs in three of his last four starts.
"I used to pitch with a lot of ground balls," Nova said. "This year, I haven't. I guess I've just got to go back and do exactly the same thing as last year -- getting my ground balls and a strikeout when you need it."
Cincinnati tacked on an eighth-inning insurance run off reliever David Phelps, who made a sparkling diving play on Todd Frazier's popped-up bunt but then fired the ball down the right-field line for an error. Mike Costanzo brought home the run with a sacrifice fly.
That proved vital, as the Yankees banged on the door but were ultimately unable to come through with the knockout blow they needed for what Girardi thought would have been an emotionally lifting victory.
"We just didn't get the last hit that we needed to try to put them away," Girardi said. "It's good that we were able to come back, but it's frustrating that you get so close and you lose."