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Yankees on brink of greatest collapse

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees are on the verge of the greatest collapse in postseason history, and baseball fans nationwide are getting their yellow ribbons ready.

If New York loses Game 7 Wednesday night, the 2003 Cubs, the 1986 Angels and all those Red Sox teams will all be off the hook. These 2004 Yankees will go down as the greatest chokers in postseason history. You can already hear their front-office employees photocopying résumés at Kinko's.

Three days ago, the Yankees were three outs away from sweeping Boston in four games. Now the team with the game's highest payroll is 27 outs away from doing what no other team in baseball history has done in a century of postseason play: blow a 3-0 series lead. And most delicious of all, they would blow it to the Red Sox.

As a precaution, major-league security has ordered riot police to surround George Steinbrenner's private box.

The Yankees are staring at history, and the reflection is not pretty. While David Ortiz is slamming his way into Boston lore and Curt Schilling is pitching his way into both the postseason record books and the New England Journal of Medicine, Team Heimlich is embarrassing itself with an epic collapse. The Yankees scored 19 runs in Game 3 but have scored just 10 runs since while going 4-for-30 with runners in scoring position. They scored only one run in seven innings in Game 6 against a pitcher who requires surgery on his ankle and whose tendon had been stabilized with sutures that left his sock soaked in blood.

Gary Sheffield has only an infield single in 13 at-bats since Game 4. Hideki Matsui has one hit in his past 12 at-bats. Derek Jeter is 3-for-15 in the past three losses.

Alex Rodriguez, the center of the storm in the Boston-New York rivalry the past year, resorted to a brainless play on a roller up the first-base line in the eighth inning of Game 6 when he swung his arm and knocked the baseball out of pitcher Bronson Arroyo's hand. The umpires called it runner's interference and the Red Sox called it bush league while Rodriguez claimed confusion about what he had done wrong, offering this explanation: "I guess I should have run him over.''

Nice. The Yankees fans responded to the interference call in likewise classy fashion by throwing so many baseballs and so much garbage onto the field that riot police had to be sent in for protection. Other teams drape bunting from the stadium rails during the postseason; the Yankees dispatch armed guards along the foul lines.

Meanwhile, with runs few and far between, a thin, tired bullpen blew a 4-3 in the ninth inning of Game 4, blew a 4-2 lead in the eighth of Game 5 and would have blown a lead in Game 6 if only the Yankees had ever held the lead.

Momentum has shifted so much in Boston's favor that tenor Daniel Rodriguez may sing the theme to "Cheers'' during Wednesday's seventh-inning stretch. Not even the old "Have A Fan In The Bleachers Make The Umpire Screw Up A Home Run Call'' ploy worked for the Yankees.

Manager Joe Torre is the mastermind of the Yankees' success the past decade, always a couple steps ahead of everyone else and making all the right moves, and yet this turnaround is so stunning he wasn't even sure who his Game 7 starter was going to be.

"Obviously,'' he said, "there are a number of people we can choose from.''

Yes, and none is particularly promising.

Will it be Kevin Brown, the 39-year-old former ace who lasted only two innings in Game 2 and left his teammates hanging during the pennant drive by punching the clubhouse wall, breaking his left hand and missing four weeks? He's the likely choice, but he'd be pitching on three days' rest.

Will it be Javier Vazquez, the starter who made the All-Star team in July but in whom they have no confidence here in October? If so, he'd also be pitching on three days' rest after allowing four runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 3.

Will it be Orlando Hernandez, who was the staff savior in August and early September but who hasn't won a game in more than a month? If so, he'd be pitching on two days rest after allowing three runs in five innings in Game 4.

Obviously, the Yankees can still pull this out -- they are playing the Red Sox, after all -- but they are playing tight and buckling under pressure.

Start spreading the news: The Yankees are just one loss from the worst collapse in baseball history. Check the local paper for your city's ticker-tape parade route.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.