Yanks searching for their identity
With five losses in past six games, Bombers fall further behind
NEW YORK -- Even though there is no shortage of television cameras being trained on the Yankees, there must be room for a new network in their lineup.Friday, as most days, it was YES. Saturday, it will be FOX. Sunday, ESPN. Forget all the acronyms. Maybe it's time their games were carried by the Discovery Channel, because these Bombers still seem to be trying to discover who they are and what their 2008 expectations should be. Their most recent game, the Independence Day soaking against Boston at Yankee Stadium, offered little help. The Yankees certainly weren't themselves. They weren't the Bombers who jab-jab you into a stupor, then land the haymaker. Or the ones who can turn a break into a bonanza. So, instead, the Red Sox ground their heels a little harder atop the Yankees' throats, with a 6-4 victory over a team suddenly incapable of following through on a threat. Its fifth loss in six games left New York six games behind Boston, which does not lead the American League East, and nine games behind Tampa Bay, which does. "It's deflating," Johnny Damon said through winces. "It's going to be an uphill battle against two very good teams." Say the Yankees' postseason chances now are on the fence -- sort of how the third-inning ball hit by Kevin Youkilis was after Damon briefly gloved it before "laying" it on the blue rubber coating as he crashed into the barrier. Taking his injured left shoulder off the field, Damon jogged by pitcher Darrell Rasner and apologized. "Well, yeah," Damon said, with a tone that implied surprise that anyone would be shocked by that. "I had the ball. Would've been a nice play ... turned into a bit of a crazy play." On a day that drove Yankees fans a little more crazy. The Bombers started the job, but couldn't finish it. The one trademark of their 13-year postseason run has been the patience to bury tough starters under high pitch counts, then abuse bullpens. Under the duress of Thursday's limp loss in the series opener and the ensuing clubhouse airing out by their manager, the Yankees worked their M.O. early. They squeezed 34 pitches out of Boston ace Josh Beckett in the fourth inning. The fact they didn't score in that frame was almost incidental. The load pushed Beckett's pitch count to 77, assuring his early departure, which came after the sixth with 102 pitches. The formula was in, as was Hideki Okajima. On cue, New York loaded the bases against the left-hander with one out in the seventh. But the hammer never struck the nail. Bobby Abreu popped out meekly. Then Manny Delcarmen took over to get Alex Rodriguez on a roller. "We had an opportunity. I felt good about it," New York manager Joe Girardi said about having those two batters lined up in that situation. "But we weren't able to cash in." They got an even bigger lightning strike in the ninth, when Derek Jeter extended the game with an RBI double into center fielder Coco Crisp's glove. "All you want to do is get the tying run to the plate. Then you never know what might happen," Jeter said. By now, we know what did happen: Jonathan Papelbon retired Abreu on a fly to center for the game's 27th and final out. Inning. Game. Season? Hardly, although being 10 games down in the loss column even before the Fourth of July fireworks reflect off the Hudson is never a good thing. Neither is a 35-35 record against the AL (15-17 against the other AL East teams) with only one National League gimme remaining (the July 10 makeup in Pittsburgh). But these are the Yankees, stretch terrors as recently as 2007, when they were actually a game worse off after 87 and thereafter closed 50-25. Or are they? These impostors let people off the floor. In the first two games against Boston, New York is 2-for-24 with men on base -- and that includes the Jeter liner judged by third-base ump Wally Bell to have been trapped by the diving Crisp. "You look for any opportunity to tie the game -- and we had that," lamented Girardi, who some consign to as deep a slump as his hitters. The players aren't clutch-hitting -- Rodriguez's two-run double in the first and Jeter's gift are the only two hits they have delivered with men in scoring position against Boston in 13 shots. And the manager isn't clutch-meeting. Girardi had been infuriated enough by Thursday night's 7-0 laydown to Jon Lester to call an immediate clubhouse meeting. However, he should have first consulted the pitching menu for Friday: Beckett against Rasner. Nothing automatic, of course, but certainly in favor of the visitors. Managers are notorious for picking their spots for one of those closed-door therapy sessions, which virtually beg for a follow-up victory to be deemed a success. As an inspirational speechmaker, Girardi was looking like Bill Clinton when Rodriguez and Jason Giambi put Rasner 3-0 up on Beckett in the first. Soon enough, though, Damon was separated from the ball, which got Beckett even. And guys like Beckett do not blow the same game twice. "It's a different game if Johnny is able to finish that play -- if the ball stays in his glove," Girardi said. "The effort was unbelievable." Alas, the ball, the game and Johnny Damon were all lost. Follow-up exams Saturday of his left shoulder might crystallize his prognosis, but it's clear this series is over for him. "And just," Damon said, "when I was beginning to feel like my bat was where it needed to be." It needs to be on top of the New York lineup, but won't be for a spell. So it isn't getting any easier. The challenge to meet is getting tougher, but, of course, that's what the real Yankees do.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.