"You have to go out there and beat the Yankees," Jays catcher Gregg Zaun said. "They aren't going to beat themselves on too many occasions. We always need to limit the walks against every club, but especially against good teams like this who have guys who can put the ball in play hard, one through nine."
The Blue Jays (78-77) were hoping that McGowan could eat up some innings on Sunday, considering the way Toronto's pitching staff had been worn down over the past two games. In the first two games of the series in New York, the Jays used 16 pitchers, combining for 391 pitches over 23 2/3 innings and nearly 10 hours of baseball.
McGowan wasn't up to the task. He saw his pitch count balloon to 60 after just two innings, and the Yankees (90-65) chased him from the contest after he logged 112 throws over 4 1/3 innings -- his shortest outing since June 19. McGowan also allowed six runs, which snapped the right-hander's run of 12 starts without yielding more than four runs.
"There wasn't much I could go to today," McGowan said. "I didn't have command of anything. When I don't have control of my fastball, usually, most of the time, there's a second pitch I can go to. I just didn't have it today."
In the second inning, McGowan (11-10) worked Yankees designated hitter Hideki Matsui into an 0-2 count, but then issued a seven-pitch walk to open the frame. Two batters later, McGowan put Melky Cabrera behind with a 1-2 count, only to see that advantage slip away as New York's center fielder trotted to first base on the heels of a one-out walk.
Both Matsui and Cabrera went on to score when the Yankees rang up three consecutive RBI singles against McGowan, leading to a three-run outburst that tied the score at 3. Over the past two games, Toronto has walked 18 New York hitters. The Yankees -- now 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Red Sox in the East -- have turned 12 of those freebies into runs, including five on Sunday.
"The last thing you want to do is put some runners on free and let them have a chance to drive them in," McGowan said. "Most of it today was me. I fell behind a lot of batters and they ended up drawing the walks, and walks always hurt you."
The Jays nearly turned a walk by Yankees starter Mike Mussina (11-10) into a run of their own in the fourth inning. Zaun drew a free pass and later moved to second base on a single by Curtis Thigpen. Zaun then tried to regain the lead for Toronto by scoring on a single up the middle by shortstop John McDonald.
Yankees catcher Jose Molina gloved the relay throw from center field and quickly spun to his left in an effort to tag Zaun. Molina appeared to miss Zaun as Toronto's catcher slid toward the plate, but home-plate umpire Derryl Cousins ruled Zaun out, ending the inning and leaving the game deadlocked.
"I didn't think he made contact," said Toronto manager John Gibbons, referring to Molina's sweep tag. "I thought [Zaun] was by him. At that time, that gives us the lead. It was a close play, anyway."
Zaun sat in the dirt behind home plate for a moment, looking baffled by the call.
"Derryl thought he touched me, and that's the way the calls go here," Zaun said. "He made his call, and that's the call that he felt was the right one. I disagreed with it, and so did Gibby. I thought I made a great slide and touched home plate, and he didn't see it that way."
The questionable call opened the door for a fifth-inning rally by New York, which entered the game with the best team batting average (.288) and on-base percentage (.363) in the Major Leagues.
Yankees right fielder Bobby Abreu, who forced McGowan to throw 23 pitches over the course of three at-bats, drew a leadoff walk and then jogged to second base after Toronto's starter walked Alex Rodriguez. Once again, the Yanks added another trio of runs behind three RBI singles.
The trend continued in the seventh inning, when Toronto reliever Josh Banks walked Matsui to with no outs. Matsui found home plate later that inning on a run-scoring double by Molina to put the Jays behind, 7-3.
That deficit was sliced to two runs on a homer by Matt Stairs in the eighth, but the damage was done. Toronto had already handed New York too many scoring chances.
"[The Yankees] open the door on you, and it's tough to shut it sometimes," Gibbons said. "That's what they do to you. If you don't come to the strike zone, you've got a slim chance of beating them. That's just the way it is."
And it can make for a long night.