Alex Rios' sixth-inning homer off tough-luck starter Phil Hughes proved to be the decisive blow, and after the Rays defeated the Royals, 5-3, earlier in the day, the Yankees' lead in the American League East is now whittled to just three games.
"It is? I didn't even pay attention to it," Nick Swisher said. "It's not really my style. I don't think it's our style. I think we know we're not playing as well as we can right now."
Still, there were signs that the three-game sweep had some effect on the Yankees, particularly manager Joe Girardi, who isn't likely to look back on this trip to Chicago very fondly.
The skipper halted his postgame news conference to walk toward a fan who was heckling Girardi as he exited the basement level. Girardi nudged an idle security guard and barked, "Do something, would you? Shut this guy up."
The unruly fan was ushered out of the stadium, but that didn't lessen the sting after his club managed just three hits against Sale, who left to a standing ovation after freezing Ichiro Suzuki looking at a called third strike for his final punchout of the night.
"It's what he does all the time," Girardi said. "He's got good stuff. He's got a good fastball, a real good breaking ball and a changeup that he mixes in. He's done it all year long."
In all, New York struck out 15 times, with Addison Reed recording two punchouts in the ninth as he secured his 23rd save. Despite his postgame dustup, Girardi described the Yankees' dwindling AL East lead as part of the season's ebb and flow.
"That's baseball," Girardi said. "It's what you go through. You know that the season's not over after 120 games, it's not over after 140. You have to play 162. We're going to play the teams that we need to win against, that's the bottom line. We still have the lead."
And at least they won't see Sale again in the regular season. The Yankees' only dent against Sale came in the sixth inning as Jeter slugged his 13th home run of the season, pulling the ball to left-center field.
That blast marked the first time in Jeter's career that he had homered in three straight games, and he would have preferred it to provide something of a spark.
"You hope, but we didn't do much off of him," Jeter said. "That's the bottom line. We really didn't have him in trouble all night."
Sale admitted that there was an added thrill in facing the Yankees, but he succeeded in maintaining his composure.
"You come in, and all that stuff is running through your head, but you can't let that get to you," Sale said. "No matter what the team is or who the guy is, you have to focus on making quality pitches."
Hughes turned in a strong outing, limiting the White Sox to two runs over seven innings, but he ended up on the wrong side of the decision through little fault of his own.
"Sale's been tough all year for a reason," Hughes said. "You knew if he was on, you had to be pretty close to perfect -- and I wasn't perfect. You've got to tip your cap to him. He threw a great game."
Chicago touched Hughes in the third inning as Gordon Beckham doubled, advanced on Dewayne Wise's infield hit and scored on a Kevin Youkilis sacrifice fly, and again in the sixth on Rios' home run -- a pitch Hughes wanted to get inside more but left over the plate.
"He's a guy who throws a high percentage of fastballs, so I guessed right," Rios said. "I knew I hit it good. I didn't know it was going to go out, but I knew I hit it good."
Hughes permitted two walks and struck out five in the outing, throwing 98 pitches and scattering five hits.
"There's no start that's ever wasted," Girardi said. "He threw the ball well, and we've got to keep him on a roll."
The defeat ended a string of 20 consecutive games for the Yankees, who went 11-9 over the stretch and seemed to eagerly look forward to Thursday's off-day before beginning a three-game series against the Indians.
"It's a tough stretch we were in -- a lot of late nights, some long games -- but we're through it," Girardi said.
The Yankees will welcome their ace, CC Sabathia, back to the mound to kick off that weekend set in Cleveland -- a destination that they can only hope will wipe clean all of the stresses and disappointment of the week so far.
"I know the talent we have in here, and I know what we're capable of doing," Swisher said. "It's just not coming out right now. That off-day for us tomorrow couldn't come at a better time."