NEW YORK -- With a two-run lead heading into the ninth, manager Joe Girardi felt he couldn't turn to closer Rafael Soriano or setup man David Robertson due to their activity in recent games. So to start the ninth inning, Girardi went with the situational approach, and his slew of relievers gave away the game.
Despite an impressive start by Ivan Nova in the wake of injuries to Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia, the usually sturdy Yankees bullpen came undone on Thursday, allowing a go-ahead three-run home run to Dayan Viciedo in the ninth inning for a 4-3 loss at Yankee Stadium, ending their five-game winning streak.
Nova left the game with a one-run lead in the eighth, and Mark Teixeira tacked on an insurance home run in the bottom half of the inning before Viciedo's 14th home run -- off Robertson, who ultimately had to enter the game.
"I'm just trying to mix and match a little bit. I'm still being careful with David Robertson, and it would have been two times in a row," Girardi said. "It's not the way you want to lose a game."
Soriano pitched four of the last five days, and Girardi feared injury if he were to insert his closer in the game. The Yankees manager also didn't feel comfortable turning to Robertson to start the final frame, as he felt it necessary to be cautious with the right-hander, who pitched on Wednesday night and recently returned from the disabled list.
With those options out, Cody Eppley started the final frame and allowed a leadoff single to Alex Rios. Clay Rapada promptly replaced Eppley, and the right-hander's slider got A.J. Pierzynski to hit a routine comebacker and a potential double-play ball. But Rapada's errant throw allowed the runners to reach the corners before the Girardi finally turned to Robertson.
"I thought my reaction off the ball was a little quicker than it was, and I didn't get my feet under me," Rapada said. "I did my job as a pitcher, I just didn't do my job as a fielder. I put D-Rob in a bad situation."
Robertson tried to throw a fastball down and away on the second pitch of the at-bat to Viciedo, but the Chicago outfielder planted it over the left-field wall.
"I was thinking fastball down the middle. Anything in the vicinity, that's what I was thinking," Viciedo said. "I wasn't really trying to swing for the fences. It was more so that when it happened, I was just trying to make good contact."
After the game, Roberston said he felt fine the last time he threw back-to-back outings, and he hasn't had a conversation with Girardi about being cautious with his usage. He said he felt completely healthy, and if it were his choice, he'd prefer to start an inning rather than enter it with inherited runners.
"It's tough. It stinks. We had the game right there," Robertson said. "A couple things didn't go our way. I made one bad pitch, and they made me pay for it."
Derek Jeter, who tied Cal Ripken Jr. for 13th on the all-time list with hit No. 3,184 on a single in the seventh, nearly rescued the bullpen. He just missed a two-out, two-run walk-off homer on a shot that died on the warning track in right field.
Nova continued his recent string of strong outings in timely fashion, proving he could be the new arm for the pitching staff to lean on.
In wake of news that the Yankees' two left-handed starters will be out until after the All-Star break, and in Pettitte's case well beyond, Nova threw 7 1/3 innings while allowing just one run and six hits. The loss was the Yankees' first with Nova on the hill since May 19. His performance would have been even more impressive if not for White Sox leadoff hitter Alejandro De Aza, who accounted for four of the White Sox hits off Nova.
"That guy was hitting my pitches like a softball," Nova said. "I got behind the count a lot in his four at-bats. My curveball wasn't going the way I wanted it to move. Every time I fell behind, I wanted to see if I could even the count then finish him off with my slider or curveball, but he got good swings on them all the time."
After cruising through the first three innings, Nova ran into trouble in the fourth inning, when the White Sox started with back-to-back hits. But with Paul Konerko on third and Rios on first, the right-hander got Pierzynski to fly to center. He then doubled off Rios at first on Viciedo's lineout to first baseman Teixeira. That was Chicago's only real threat with runners on base until the ninth, as Nova worked quickly and was efficient, throwing 58 of his 98 pitches for strikes.
De Aza would break the scoreless tie in the fifth inning with his fifth home run of the season, a towering shot into the second level in right field giving the White Sox an early 1-0 lead.
White Sox starter Dylan Axelrod pitched well in just his third start of the season, holding the Yankees smoldering offense, which now has 40 home runs in its last 23 games, to just two runs in seven innings.
New York knotted up the score at 1 in the bottom half of the fifth on Rodriguez's second double of the night to left-center field, scoring Curtis Granderson from first. Cano immediately followed with a double of his own, plating the third baseman to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.
Teixeira's home run in the eighth inning, his 13th of the year, seemed to give the Yankees a safe lead, as New York's relievers entered Thursday's game with the second best bullpen ERA in the American League, but Girardi's tandem of relievers couldn't keep the White Sox offense at bay.
If there's any sign of encouragement, it was Nova's start. With all the questions surrounding the rotation without the two big lefties at the top, the Yankees hope Nova's 1.59 ERA in June continues into the foreseeable future.
"I don't want these guys to try and make up for the other guys, but we expect him to pitch at a high level," Girardi said.
Ethan Asofsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.