The Yankees were the first team this season to get to Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez, and they still lost.
Manager Joe Girardi's bullpen had its own problems.
Mark Reynolds had a game-ending RBI single off reliever Adam Warren with two outs in the ninth inning, after Mark Teixeira homered off Rodriguez with two outs in the top half, to give Milwaukee a 6-5 win Sunday.
"You want to go up there with a zero and give your offense a chance to get back in there. I just couldn't quite do it," said Warren (1-2).
New York has lost two straight going into this week's Subway Series with the Mets.
Making matters worse was that the Yankees battered starting rotation took another blow after struggling left-hander CC Sabathia was placed on the disabled list before Sunday's game with a right knee injury. Ivan Nova (elbow) is already out for the season and Michael Pineda (upper back) is on the DL.
"This is tough. That's why I didn't want to say anything but I'll do more damage to the team by trying to hide it," Sabathia said. According to Girardi, Sabathia had a little fluid in the knee and "needed a little time off."
New York still came close to heading home with a win despite another blow to the rotation. But the bullpen gave up four hits and two runs in three-plus innings.
Rickie Weeks doubled just inside the first base line with one out before going to third on a wild pitch by Warren.
Reynolds, who briefly played for New York last year, held his right index finger in the air after his hard chopper bounced past diving third baseman Yangervis Solarte at third to drive in Weeks two batters later.
"Great team win, everybody chipping in," manager Ron Roenicke said.
The Yankees wasted the homer from Teixeira, who reached out for a low and away, full-count pitch from Rodriguez for a homer to right. It was the first run allowed all season by the veteran closer, and the first blown save after 15 successful opportunities.
Rodriguez (1-0) did pick up the win. The Brewers' typically stingy bullpen gave up two runs to New York, including Solarte's run-scoring single in the seventh that drew New York within a run.
In the end, the Brewers' bats picked up the relievers.
"Sometimes you've got to pick them up because he's been picking us up a lot," Reynolds said.
Phelps had a so-so outing in his second start of the season after making nine appearances out of the bullpen for the Yankees. Starting in place of Pineda, Phelps allowed eight hits and walked three in five-plus innings, allowing the leadoff runner to reach base five times.
But that performance might be good enough for the Yankees' depleted rotation. The lineup gave Phelps support early while taking advantage in a three-run first of starter Matt Garza, who allowed three walks and two hits in the inning, including Kelly Johnson's two-run double. Garza settled down to allow six hits, four walks and three runs in five innings.
"I thought our at-bats were still good," Girardi said. "We hit some balls hard but we just weren't able to bunch them together anymore."
Prior to the game, the Brewers gave Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter a gold-plated bat and a $10,000 check for his Turn 2 Foundation, which promotes healthy lifestyles among youth. The gifts were presented by Dick Groch, a special assistant to general manager Doug Melvin. Groch was the Yankees scout in 1992 who recommended the team draft Jeter in the first round that year.