NEW YORK — Even when they have a lead lately, the New York Yankees can’t hold it. And the way things are going, beating just about anyone appears to be a tall order — let alone the best team in the American League.
Yoenis Cespedes homered twice, Josh Donaldson hit a tiebreaking shot in the seventh inning off newcomer Jose Ramirez, and the Oakland Athletics overcame a four-run deficit to defeat New York 7-4 the night of June 4 for their fifth straight victory.
“We had our chances to add on and we weren’t able to do it,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said. “The guys are doing everything they can, but right now we just aren’t getting it done.”
The highest-scoring team in the majors this season, the A’s will go for a three-game sweep June 5. They are 12-3 against New York since July 19, 2012.
Two pieces of good news for the Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to start the series finale, and Carlos Beltran is expected back in the lineup.
Girardi said Beltran will probably be used exclusively as a designated hitter for a while to protect his right elbow. The switch-hitting right fielder was placed on the 15-day disabled list May 15 because of a bone spur.
Jacoby Ellsbury had three hits, including an early three-run homer, but the Yankees (29-29) matched a season worst with their fourth consecutive defeat. They’ve been outscored 21-0 from the seventh inning on during the slide.
Derek Jeter made a costly error and New York dropped to 1-5 on a seven-game homestand with its 12th loss in the last 16 at Yankee Stadium.
Donaldson connected off Ramirez, who was making his major league debut. Cespedes also had three hits to help the A’s move a season-best 15 games over .500 at 37-22, the best mark in the AL.
“I was a little nervous,” Ramirez said through a translator. “I wasn’t really thinking about pitching tonight but I knew the chance would be there because of our bullpen situation.”
Girardi said he went to Ramirez with the score tied in the seventh because Dellin Betances and David Robertson had thrown a lot of pitches over the past few days. Jesse Chavez (5-3) hung around for six innings, long enough to get the win when his teammates rallied.
“I thought we hit some balls hard, but it would be nice to continue to tack on runs to put more pressure on them and give our pitchers a little bit more breathing room,” Ellsbury said.
Dan Otero got Brian McCann on a weak grounder with runners at the corners to protect a one-run lead in the seventh. Otero also worked a scoreless eighth and Sean Doolittle got three quick outs to extend his career-best shutout streak to 16 1-3 innings.
“We have something to prove,” said Doolittle, who earned his seventh save. “When we get a chance to play against the Yankees on a big stage in their ballpark, guys step up.”
Cespedes started Oakland’s comeback with a leadoff homer to center in the fourth. Jed Lowrie hit a deep sacrifice fly in the fifth, and Yankees starter Vidal Nuno was pulled one out shy of qualifying for a win. He left with a 4-2 lead after 92 pitches.
“I had a lot of long ABs that drove my pitch count up,” Nuno said. “My ball was kind of everywhere tonight.”
Cespedes hit another leadoff shot in the sixth, this one off Matt Daley barely clearing the short porch in right. Derek Norris reached on Jeter’s throwing error from shortstop and scored the tying run on Alberto Callaspo’s long sacrifice fly.
Just called up from the minors, Ramirez (0-1) entered in the seventh. He retired his first batter but then gave up Donaldson’s 16th homer on his fifth major league pitch. The drive to left field gave the A’s a 5-4 advantage.
Oakland has gone deep in 12 consecutive games, hitting 22 homers during that span. The AL West leaders added two insurance runs in the ninth on a hit batter and a sacrifice fly against Wade LeBlanc in his Yankees debut.
(MIKE FITZPATRICK, AP Sports Writer)