Joe Girardi was ejected in the ninth inning Thursday as soon as he confronted the plate umpire, Dan Iassogna, about balls and strikes. But Girardi, the Yankees’ manager, was in no hurry to leave the field. He tried some performance art first.
Girardi was upset about the strike zone after his cleanup hitter, Brian McCann, struck out looking. After the ejection, Girardi strode away from Iassogna and dug his spikes into the dirt, scratching a line parallel to the plate and well out of the zone. Girardi yelled a little more, for theatrical flair, and then left with an energized crowd behind him.
The Yankees responded with another run, but Didi Gregorius flied to left with runners on second and third to finish a 3-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians.
“I just wanted the strike zone to be right,” Girardi said, mentioning other calls that also bothered him. “I want the strike zone to be the strike zone, and I know they’re not going to be perfect; I understand that. But it’s a real important time.”
The loss shaved a half-game from the Yankees’ lead in the American League East, which now stands at a game and a half over the idle Toronto Blue Jays, who start a road series against the Los Angeles Angels on Friday.
The Yankees have three more games this weekend with the Indians, who arrived in last place in the A.L. Central but have been tougher for the Yankees than Minnesota, Cleveland’s divisional neighbor, has been. The Yankees swept the Twins this week but have now lost three of four this month to the Indians.
The Yankees will miss the reigning A.L. Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber, in this series, but they will face other tough right-handers, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, the next two days. The soft-throwing Josh Tomlin looked like an easier assignment, but he was not.
“He did just enough to keep us in between speeds,” said McCann, who was 0 for 3 against Tomlin before Cody Allen struck him out in the ninth.
McCann said he disagreed with a called strike on 0-1, which gave Allen a distinct advantage. He said he was not angry in general with Iassogna — who told a pool reporter that he ejected Girardi for leaving the dugout to argue balls and strikes — and did not blame him.
“That’s not why I struck out,” McCann said. “I struck out because I didn’t swing the bat well tonight.”
Neither did many of his teammates besides Alex Rodriguez, who ripped his 26th homer (No. 680 of his career) for the Yankees’ only run in seven innings off Tomlin. They had just one other hit against Tomlin, who won for the first time since shoulder surgery in March.
Ivan Nova (5-5) was coming off a seven-inning performance last Friday in Toronto, when he beat the Blue Jays to lift the Yankees back into first place after they had briefly fallen out during their series in Cleveland. This time, Nova lasted only five innings, allowing six hits and three runs.
It highlighted the inconsistency the Yankees almost expect from Nova in his return from Tommy John surgery. Nova has made 10 starts, and while all have lasted at least five innings, half have not made it through the sixth.
“I fell behind to a lot of hitters,” Nova said. “You’re going to have games like this. You try to be perfect every time you go out there, but obviously, it’s not going to happen. Today was one of those days.”
Nova struggled to command his sinker and left too many curveballs up and over the middle. The Indians touched him for a run in the second, the third and the fourth, with run-scoring hits by Lonnie Chisenhall, Michael Brantley and Jose Ramirez.
The Yankees popped out three times off Tomlin and struck out six times. They also hit into bad luck: Abraham Almonte hauled in Brett Gardner’s deep drive with a racing, leaping grab at the wall in right-center in the sixth, and Chisenhall made a charging, sliding catch to rob Carlos Beltran of a hit in the seventh.
Rodriguez singled to lead off the ninth, then stole second without a throw and scored on a one-out single by Beltran. After a walk, the Yankees got a break: Cleveland first baseman Carlos Santana lost his grip as he tried to throw Chase Headley’s grounder to second to start a game-ending double play.
The winning run moved into scoring position as Santana settled for the easy out at first. But the Yankees fell one hit short.
First baseman Mark Teixeira, who bruised his lower right leg with a foul ball Monday, missed his third game in a row. Manager Joe Girardi said Teixeira was moving around better but had not resumed baseball activities. …The right-hander Michael Pineda, who has not pitched since July 24 because of a strained muscle in his right forearm, is scheduled to throw 65 pitches for Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Friday. Girardi said it “very well could be” the final rehabilitation start for Pineda.