ARLINGTON -- The sagging Rangers fought themselves again in Friday night's 4-1 loss to the Yankees, from Matt Harrison getting off to a shaky start to the bats providing little hope.
It's far from the team that overpowered the Yankees the last time these teams met at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, last October in a 6-1 Game 6 victory that wrapped up a convincing American League Championship Series triumph and a first trip to the World Series for the upstart Rangers.
On Friday night, the Rangers rolled out a team that produced three hits and a starting pitcher who had his team down 2-0 after two batters. A throwing error by Harrison in the second inning had a crowd of 49,069 booing, a far cry from the pandemonium that transpired the last time these two teams played here.
The Rangers didn't have Nelson Cruz, who hit a two-run home run in last year's Game 6 victory, or Josh Hamilton, who hit four home runs in that series. Cruz may return this series. Hamilton is out at least two or three more weeks.
Meanwhile, the Rangers are a loss away from .500 at 17-16. They're hitting .193 as a team in their last six games. They've scored six runs in their last three games. Friday's three hits were a season low.
"We're just down right now," first baseman Mitch Moreland said. "We're not playing our game. It's kind of the way it works. It's a long season. You're going to have these times. We have to figure out a way to get out of it and get back to our old ways."
The Yankees, who had lost three straight coming into Friday, showed that the easiest way out of a slump is to get strong starting pitching. Ivan Nova got the Rangers to pound the ball into the ground for 16 outs. He had only one strikeout, but still, Nova was never in trouble as the Rangers had three baserunners in 7 1/3 innings against him.
"He made some good pitches for sure," Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "We were getting unlucky today. We were hitting a lot of balls right on it. The way we are right now ... it's like we're playing against 22 people. He had pretty good stuff tonight. He controlled his breaking pitch.
"This is the part of the season that we have to fight through and try to get better."
Harrison's first-inning troubles didn't help a slumping offense. He allowed a combined eight runs in the first inning in his last two starts, and continued that trend Friday.
Derek Jeter singled to right to start the game, and Curtis Granderson followed by crushing a two-seam fastball over the right-center-field fence for a 2-0 lead.
The Yankees added a run in the second when Harrison walked Jorge Posada and Russell Martin to start the inning. After Brett Gardner bunted into a fielder's choice, Jeter hit a routine grounder to Harrison in front of the mound. Harrison proceeded to throw the ball several feet over the head of first baseman Chris Davis, scoring Martin for a 3-0 lead.
"I panicked," Harrison said. "It hit me off the arm and hit me in the stomach, and I was trying to find the ball and I looked up and saw the runners going. I looked over to first base and saw Jeter going down the line, and I tried to hurry up my throw and it sailed on me. It was just a bad throw."
With Harrison on the verge of coming out of the game -- Brett Tomko was warming up in the bullpen -- he somehow gathered himself and saved the bullpen, and maybe his psyche -- the two big positives to come out of an otherwise tough night.
Harrison turned into the pitcher who opened the season with three consecutive victories. He bailed out of a bases-loaded jam with one out in the top of the second, getting Mark Teixeira to pop out to first base and Alex Rodriguez to sky out to center field.
Harrison allowed only a single to Rodriguez in the next four innings as he regained his composure.
"That should be a big confidence boost for him," Rangers manager Ron Washington said.
Too bad the Rangers' bats couldn't figure out Nova, who came in with an inflated 5.14 ERA.
David Murphy had a one-out single in the bottom of the second, and Nova responded by retiring the next 12 batters he faced. After Davis led off the bottom of the sixth with a single, Julio Borbon lined out to a diving Gardner in left field, and Ian Kinsler bounced into an inning-ending double play.
Granderson added his second home run of the game against reliever Ryan Tucker in the top of the seventh, giving the Yankees a 4-0 lead.
The Rangers scored in the bottom of the eighth as Borbon had an RBI single to make it 4-1. Kinsler then came up as the tying run with two runners on base, but he popped up the first pitch from Rafael Soriano into right field to end the threat.
And the Rangers moved to the cusp of being a .500 team after starting the season 6-0.
"It just seems like when we're going good, everything is clicking," Moreland said. "The defense looks great, offense gets those big hits. We'll string together some [one-run innings] and [two-run innings] and throw a big inning in there. That's kind of what we're missing right now on the offensive side. And we probably need to be a little more focused on defense as well."
Todd Wills is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.