NEW YORK -- Even the slimmest of leads has seemed difficult for the Yankees to produce of late, so it burned CC Sabathia even more that he coughed one up in the seventh inning on Sunday.
Staked to a two-run advantage by Raul Ibanez's tiebreaking blast in the sixth, Sabathia promptly served up a pair of homers and walked in the go-ahead run as the Yankees dropped a 5-2 decision to the Reds, suffering their fifth loss in six games.
"It was definitely frustrating," Sabathia said. "I feel like I let the team down. These guys are scratching and clawing, and it's a great offense, but it has been tough. To be able to have a 2-0 lead in the seventh inning, that's a ballgame we should win."
While the Yankees' struggles with runners in scoring position remain far from cured, Sabathia blanked the Reds over six strong innings and had no reason not to believe Ibanez's shot off Johnny Cueto would hold up.
"CC did what we needed him to do; we just need to find a way to score some more runs," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said.
Ryan Ludwick's solo homer opened the seventh to trim Cincinnati's deficit, and Sabathia challenged Ryan Hanigan with an 0-2 fastball that was deposited over the left-field fence for a game-tying blast.
After an infield single and two walks, Sabathia was one strike away from escaping a bases-loaded jam, but he lost Brandon Phillips from a 1-2 count and forced in a run with a walk that gave Cincinnati the lead.
"I'm just trying to make a pitch, get [Phillips] to mishit a ball or get a strikeout," Sabathia said. "He put an at-bat together and ended up drawing the walk."
That was enough for Cueto, who limited the Yankees to just Ibanez's ninth home run of the season over seven-plus innings. Three Cincinnati relievers finished the job, including fireballer Aroldis Chapman, who was boosted by Ludwick's two-run double in the ninth and then pitched around an error for his first save of the season.
New York's futility was captured by Alex Rodriguez's home run trot in the eighth, as he launched a deep drive to left field off Logan Ondrusek that threatened to put the Yankees back on top.
"I thought it was going to go out when he hit it," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I don't know if the wind held it up or what happened there, but I thought it was going to go out. I thought we had the lead."
The ball died on the warning track, and Rodriguez stared toward the wall with disbelief, headed for his second consecutive hitless afternoon.
"There's frustration, disappointment, but it's probably not as bad as it looks," Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long said. "There's things happening now that we can overcome. We can't say, 'Poor us.' If anything, let's fight against the world right now. Let's go."
A-Rod's deep flyout wasn't the only missed chance for the Yankees, who are fighting a 6-for-59 trend with runners in scoring position. Their only successful at-bat in that category was Ibanez's sixth-inning blast with Robinson Cano at second base.
"It's part of the game," Ibanez said. "It's better that it happens now than for it to happen later on. It's part of the game. There's a lot of great hitters in this lineup. We're going to hit."
Rodriguez jumped at the first pitch from Cueto following two four-pitch walks in the third inning, and also went after the first pitch he saw in the sixth, flying out harmlessly.
"Those are all fastballs, they're all good pitches to hit, they're all strikes," said Long, who has been working with Rodriguez to drive the ball toward left-center field.
Looking to bounce back from a loss his last time out that snapped a five-start winning streak, Sabathia had held Cincinnati hitless until Todd Frazier stroked a ground-ball single through the left side of the infield with one out in the fifth inning.
"Unfortunately, everything happened in that [seventh] inning," catcher Chris Stewart said. "You expect a walk or two throughout the game, but it's rough when it's all one inning combined together."
Girardi commented that he didn't think Sabathia pitched poorly, and basing judgment on the final line, three runs over seven innings should be enough to win on most days.
But the past week or so hasn't been like most for the Yankees, who are flashing signs of frustration that they haven't been able to turn around their offensive woes as quickly as anticipated.
"It's baseball," Sabathia said. "It's a long season, you've got some ups and downs. When it's down, it's time for the pitching to step up and make pitches. I didn't do that."