June 4, 2019 | 10:21pm
| Updated June 5, 2019 | 12:27am
TORONTO — Masahiro Tanaka’s slider lacked teeth in the pivotal fifth inning. DJ LeMahieu committed a rare base-running mistake in the seventh. And the Yankees reached double digits in runners left on base.
Following a day off, the Yankees looked sluggish for the first time in a while and the aforementioned gaffes led to a 4-3 loss to the lowly Blue Jays on Tuesday night in front of 20,671 at Rogers Centre.
“One of those nights,’’ LeMahieu said of the Yankees stranding 11 runners and going 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. “We haven’t had too many of those this year.’’
Late rallies and clutch hitting have carried the Yankees to a 38-21 record and the top spot in the AL East where they lead the second-place Rays by 2 ½ lengths.
Yet, the Yankees didn’t cash in when Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier opened the sixth with walks. Nor did LeMahieu’s leadoff double in the seventh lead to a run. Aaron Hicks homered starting the eighth to cut the deficit to 4-3, but with runners on first and second and two outs Brett Gardner flied to left. Torres had runners on first and second and two outs in the ninth and struck out for the third time.
Not long after saying life as a Yankee has been hard as he tries to fit in and that as a youngster baseball kept him relevant, Frazier belted a two-run homer in the fourth that gave Tanaka a 2-0 lead.
But that vanished in the fifth when Randal Grichuk stopped a string of 10 straight batters retired by Tanaka with a homer to center. A walk to Caven Biggio was followed by Freddy Galvis hitting a one-out, two-run homer to put the Blue Jays ahead. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. added an RBI single to make it 4-2.
“I thought he made mistakes with the slider tonight. The home run to Grichuk and to Galvis, couldn’t put them away there,’’ Aaron Boone said of Tanaka, who has one win in the last eight starts and is 1-4 with a 3.83 ERA in that stretch. “Overall, the mistakes with the slider really cost him.’’
Tanaka (3-5) gave up four runs and six hits in six frames. The Yankees lost two straight for the first time since dropping two in a row to the Diamondbacks April 30-May 1 in Phoenix.
“I feel like momentum isn’t on my side but as you go through the season you go through these types of stretches,’’ Tanaka said. “It is important to keep on grinding and get after it.’’
To watch LeMahieu get caught off second base on a grounder to shortstop went against everything the infielder has shown this season. He is always in the right place, can play multiple positions and is a clutch hitter.
Yet, when he took a step toward third base on Gary Sanchez’s hard-hit ball in the seventh, it was a mistake. Galvis fielded the ball and threw to second baseman Eric Sogard. He tagged LeMahieu out and threw to first to complete the inning-ending double play. The Yankees took almost all of the allotted time before deciding not to challenge the call.
“I was trying to get a good secondary [lead] and the ball was hit hard and it froze me a little bit,’’ said LeMahieu, who opened the ninth inning by striking out against Ken Giles. “I was too far off. I thought I was safe but it was close.’’
Which only counts in horseshoes.