Mariano Rivera came on in the ninth with a 4-3 lead to try for his 36th save, but he gave up a two-out double to Gordon Beckham and a two-out, two-strike single to left to pinch-hitter Adam Dunn that knotted the score and forced extra innings.
"I mean, Beckham I think hit a -- I don't think, I know -- I left the ball a little bit over the plate," Rivera said. "He was able to hit the ball for a double. And Dunn, he had a good at-bat. Even though it was two strikes, he threw the bat at the ball and found a hole."
White Sox manager Robin Ventura said his club was fortunate to get to Rivera.
"Everybody is aware of who he is and what he means and you realize you're not in a very good spot at that point," he said. "But for them to go up there and have tough at-bats, Dunner coming off the bench and getting one to left to tie it up, it's a big boost for us."
Robinson Cano homered in the top of the 12th, and it looked as though the Yankees might salvage the series finale after all.
But that hope was short lived. In the bottom of the 12th, the Yankees again were one out away from sealing the win, when Tyler Flowers hit a comebacker to reliever Adam Warren, who couldn't field it cleanly, enabling Flowers to reach. Alexei Ramirez followed with another single and Alejandro De Aza hit a walk-off triple to send the Yankees to a fourth consecutive defeat.
"I just miffed it," Warren said of the ball hit to him by Flowers. "I mean, I made that play I feel like 99 out of 100 times, and somehow it just hit off my glove the wrong way and didn't go in there."
"I'm not sure how he missed it," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I didn't see a replay, but it's a play he probably makes 99 out of 100 times. And it's kind of the way the road trip has been."
The loss nullified a great start by Sabathia, who had allowed at least five runs in each of his previous three outings and had lost his last four decisions, but he made a quality start Wednesday, going 7 1/3 innings while giving up three runs on five hits.
"Obviously, we want to win the game," Sabathia said. "It's a tough situation. But, you know, hopefully this [good start] will help me out."
Sabathia was perfect through his first three innings and stellar through six, yielding only a solo homer to Beckham. He had trouble in a two-run White Sox seventh, but left the game with the lead, in line for his first win since July 3.
The Yankees jumped out in front early and it looked as if they might cruise to a win. Brett Gardner opened the game by singling on a bunt to second. Alfonso Soriano then blasted a changeup from White Sox starter Hector Santiago 405 feet into the left-field bleachers for a 2-0 lead.
In the third, Soriano walked with one out and moved to second on Alex Rodriguez's single. One out later, Vernon Wells blooped another single to shallow right, scoring Soriano to make it 3-0.
Eduardo Nunez led off the fourth with a homer to left to extend the lead to 4-0.
Following the Beckham homer in the fifth that made it 4-1, the White Sox cut the deficit to a run in the seventh on an RBI double by Paul Konerko followed by an RBI by Beckham on a fielder's choice to second.
Then came the White Sox heroics in the ninth and 12th innings, with Cano's first homer since July 10 sandwiched between.
"It's tough," Rivera said. "I think we played a tremendous game and a hard game to win it. And we just gave it right back.
"This one feels worse because we came out today playing hard. Not that we didn't try to do that, but we had a chance -- we had two chances -- and we couldn't hold one of them. It's bad. We cannot do that. It's unacceptable."
The Yankees came into the game 46-3 on the season when leading after eight innings, and have now been swept five times this season, with four of those sweeps coming on the road.
"You know, when you look at it, we're down to the last strike twice, down to the last out twice and for whatever reason, we didn't get it done," Girardi said. "We had chances to win that game. We had chances to blow that game open and we didn't do it. It was not a good road trip and we need to turn things around."
With a Boston victory earlier Wednesday night, the Yankees are 11 1/2 games behind the division-leading Red Sox in the American League East.
"We have to continue," Rivera said. "It's not something that's easy. But yeah, this one is tough to go back home without a victory."