DETROIT -- Just outside the visiting clubhouse at Comerica Park, the Yankees' loss to the Tigers still fresh, catcher Russell Martin offered starter CC Sabathia a fist bump and condolences.

"He's a professional," Martin said. "He goes out there, he tries to throw to the best of his ability."

And yet in the immediate aftermath of a 5-4 loss in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, which shoved them one game closer to elimination, the Yankees could not help but harp on what they considered an inconsistent strike zone. Following a game that saw one of the league's best control artists, Sabathia, walk six batters, a few of the Yankees muttered their gripes.

"I thought the zone was small tonight," manager Joe Girardi said. "No disrespect to anyone, but that's what I thought. That's what I saw."

It was small enough that, after walking three batters in the bottom of the first, Sabathia called aside home-plate umpire Gerry Davis to ask about the zone. And yet Sabathia's counterpart, Tigers starter Justin Verlander, had little apparent trouble painting the corners, catching the Yankees looking at called third strikes on four separate occasions.

"There's always going to be discrepancies about the strike zone in the playoffs," Detroit catcher Alex Avila said. "I thought Gerry was very consistent both ways. There's always going to be calls that you question, because in the heat of the moment, you want it."

Both Avila and Tigers manager Jim Leyland pointed to the second-to-last pitch of the game, a Jose Valverde splitter that appeared to nick the bottom edge of the zone. Davis called it a ball, extending the game until Derek Jeter swung through a fastball to end things.

"You go on to the next pitch," Avila said. "That's just the way it is. You can't dwell on it. That's something that's out of your control. You do what you can do as far as what's under your control as far as trying to make good pitches. Everything else is out of your control."

And yet tight strike zones have a way of grating more on those who lose. Though Sabathia was careful not to blame Davis -- or anyone else -- for his struggles, the left-hander did appear to labor, walking more batters than any Yankees pitcher in a postseason game since Orlando Hernandez in 1999.

Only one of the Tigers batters that Sabathia walked came around to score, but that was hardly the issue. Before the end of the sixth, the left-hander was up over 100 pitches and out of the game. And now, unless the Yankees extend the ALDS to a winner-take-all fifth game, Sabathia can do nothing more to help his team.

"It was my fault," he said. "I put us in a bad spot."

So much was made coming into the game of the fact that Sabathia had thrown 27 pitches in Friday's rain-suspended Game 1, coming back Monday on two days' rest. Given Sabathia's successes pitching on short rest in the past, neither he nor Girardi figured that was an issue.

Whether it was or wasn't is anyone's guess. Whether the loss was a product of Sabathia's own lack of control, the Tigers' offense or Davis' strike zone depends entirely upon who you ask.

"I'm not going to sit here and say it's the umpire's fault," Sabathia said. "I just didn't make pitches when I needed to."

"He obviously had some trouble throwing the ball over the plate," Leyland said. "We were fortunate."

"I thought he threw the ball pretty well," Girardi said. "I really do."

Sabathia's body language early Tuesday morning told a different story. The downtrodden fist bump from Martin told the rest.

More than at any other point this season, the Yankees needed their ace to win a game. But for whatever reason Monday, Sabathia could not.

"Sometimes you don't get outs that you should maybe get," Girardi said. "That's all part of baseball. You have to fight your way through it."