- Andrew Marchand, ESPNNewYork.com
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The New York Yankees are in a free fall. They look like an old club, a step slow and fragile against younger, more vibrant teams. Understandably, their manager is testy.
This is the luggage they trudge into Tampa with for their first-place showdown with the Rays. If the manager's mood is still the same when they leave after the three games, they will be staring up in the standings at the Rays and the wild card might become a Bronx reality.
Currently, the Yankees are alternating between their pitching and their offense being in shambles, which culminated in Texas Rangers lefty Cliff Lee's 4-1 dissecting of the Yankees on Sunday. It was the first time the Yankees had been swept in a three-game series in more than a year.
If it weren't for Nick Swisher's game-winning homer Wednesday against the Baltimore Orioles, the Yankees would be in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. Instead, it is six of their past seven and Joe Girardi is making simple questions complicated.
Is there anything he can do as the manager to change things?
"I guess I could go stand on my head tomorrow and see if things shake out differently," an agitated Girardi said after the loss.
Girardi's easy answer and his best move is the one he has on tap for Monday night. He can call on the Yankees' safety blanket, ace CC Sabathia, to stop the fall.
Sabathia is everything right now for the Yankees. Realistically, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which they can win without riding his back through the end of October. If he is only OK the rest of the way, how do the Yankees win, exactly?
The Yankees and Rays, tied in the loss column atop baseball, play seven times of the Yankees' final 19. It starts with Monday's mouth-watering matchup, ace against ace, Sabathia versus David Price.
"He's polished," Sabathia said. "He's young, but he knows what he is doing out there."
The Orioles and Rangers have played with a youth and speed the Yankees are lacking -- at least at the moment. Derek Jeter -- who looked better Sunday with an RBI double and a couple of walks -- has been in a much-publicized slide. At 35 and with a healed calf and an operated-on hip, Alex Rodriguez was given the day off Sunday in hopes he can play all three in Tampa.
Right fielder Swisher, who still can't shake his bruised knee from an Aug. 24 foul ball, had to be scratched Sunday.
"It is starting to affect other parts of my game because I feel like I have to compensate," said Swisher, who wasn't sure he would be able to play Monday.
Left fielder Brett Gardner, who didn't play Sunday, either, has a date with an MRI machine Monday to get a better picture of what's wrong with his nagging wrist.
The Yankees are waiting for Andy Pettitte to ride shotgun for Sabathia, but as good as Pettitte has been this season, he is 38 and has pitched a grand total of 2 1/3 innings in the second half of the season.
If only they could fast-forward a year or rewind a few months back and have Lee now. If the Yankees had pulled off the trade with Seattle, they would feel like a surer bet.
Lee, who has struggled in Texas with back problems, reminded everyone why the Yankees likely will be direct depositing huge checks in his bank account come next year. He is 6-1 with a 2.62 ERA since 2008 against them, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Not only did Lee hold the Yankees hitless until one out in the sixth but he didn't let them hit a ball out of the infield in that span.
That changed, though, when rookie Eduardo Nunez, starting for A-Rod at third, nailed a clean single to center and Jeter, with a classic swing, bending his front knee, reached down and placed a low liner into the right-field corner for an RBI double.
Yankees starter Dustin Moseley, who had matched zeroes with Lee all day, gave back the run and then some more, though. Moseley wasn't hit hard, but that youthful quality the Rangers (and Rays) possess got him. Speed might be the thing that kills the Yankees this year.
In the bottom of the sixth, Elvis Andrus led off with a walk, stole second, moved to third on a flyout and scored on a groundout. In the seventh, the Rays took the lead after Ian Kinsler -- on another leadoff walk -- tagged up on two flyouts to right.
Kinsler scored when Julio Borbon tapped a two-out bunt to Mark Teixeira and outsprinted Moseley to first, sliding in headfirst, just ahead of Moseley. The Rangers went on to put a couple of more runs up, taking advantage of the thin Yankees bullpen, namely Jonathan Albaladejo. The runs went on Moseley's docket, but he actually pitched very well on the day.
On Monday night, the Yankees play another young, energetic team.
"They are fast," Sabathia said.
The ace will be asked to slow them down, stop the current slide and improve the manager's mood. The Yankees can still have playoff seeding in their hands.
"We control what happens," Jeter said.
True, true, but lately they haven't controlled anything.
Younger, more vibrant ballclubs are giving the long-toothed Yankees fits.