It's all gone wrong for these Yankees

10/20/2010 - MLB A.J. Burnett New York Yankees + more

NEW YORK -- A year ago, Joe Girardi decides to walk David Murphy and A.J. Burnett strikes out Bengie Molina.

A year ago, Mark Teixeira bounces up from an awkward slide into first base ready to charge to second.

A year ago, Lance Berkman's long fly into the right-field seats curls to the fair side of the foul pole.

A year ago, someone -- anyone -- in a Yankees uniform comes up with a timely hit in any or all of three great scoring situations. And a year ago, Burnett is hitting someone with a pie instead of being hit for a game-turning three-run homer by a guy who had only hit five of them all season.

A year ago, everything seemed to go right for the Yankees. Every one of their key players stayed healthy all season long, even their aging core four. A bunch of them had career seasons. No one made an issue of Girardi's binders, because on practically every page there was not a problem but a solution.

And even Mother Nature pitched in, contributing a crucial rainstorm that saved the Yankees from having to use a fourth starter in last year's ALCS, the dreaded Chad Gaudin.

The result was what horseplayers like to call the "golden rail" trip, a journey around the racetrack in which a horse never encounters a pebble in his path on the way to victory.

The Yankees got that golden trip to their 27th world championship last year.

This year, they are getting the ride from hell.

Professional athletes will always tell you that just being good is rarely enough, that you've got to be lucky too, and the 2009 Yankees were both.

Too often, the 2010 Yankees have been neither.

This does not excuse their performance against the Texas Rangers in this year's ALCS, any more than it attempts to explain away last year's postseason as the result of luck.

The Yankees weren't lucky to win last year, but they certainly got more than their share of good luck along the way.

The Yankees were the best team in baseball last season, and are certainly among the three best teams this season.

Only a year ago, everything that could have gone wrong for them went right. And this year, a lot of things that went right for them last year are going very, very wrong.

When Teixeira went down in the fifth inning and didn't get up until he was helped off the field by Girardi and assistant trainer Steve Donohue, there was no longer any doubt that this was going to be a very different postseason for the Yankees.

There had been signs all season long, of course, that this could happen. But to have predicted the looming disaster that could come as early as Wednesday afternoon would have been as difficult as seeing the Titanic taking on her first drops of water and predicting the ship would sink.

There were the early injuries to Nick Johnson (absolutely predictable) and Alfredo Aceves (unknowably costly), the season-long dings and dents to Jorge Posada, and the devastating hamstring injury to Andy Pettitte in mid-July from which the team never seemed to recover.

There was the terrible April of Teixeira, the alarmingly low first-half power numbers for Alex Rodriguez, the slow start for Derek Jeter that dragged into an entire subpar season.

There was the early flameout of Javier Vazquez, the midseason collapse of Burnett, the unreliability of Joba Chamberlain and the intermittent mortality of Mariano Rivera.

Still, they made it to the postseason, and the feeling bloomed in the clubhouse and among the fans that once October came, all the regular-season ills the Yankees couldn't seem to shake would magically peel away and they would get that golden rail trip once again.

Well, it hasn't worked out that way. Now Teixeira is out for whatever remains of the playoffs with a hamstring strain. The offensive woes that have come and come all season have returned at the worst possible time. And Girardi's binders have turned on him, spewing misinformation and spitting out disastrous strategic choices, like the one to walk Murphy and pitch to Molina, a call that ultimately cost them the game Tuesday night.

Now they are openly hoping for miracles, hoping that CC Sabathia, who hasn't pitched a good game yet in the playoffs, will pitch one Wednesday and bring this thing back to Arlington, where even if all goes well, a second meeting with Cliff Lee looms in a potential Game 7 on Saturday.

And there is no escaping the reality that if you removed the top of the eighth inning from Game 1 last Friday -- the inning in which the Rangers' bullpen gave away a four-run lead -- the Yankees' postseason would have ended with their devastating 10-3 Game 4 loss Tuesday night in the Bronx.

Ironically, they got the pitching performance they needed out of Burnett, five serviceable innings of two-run ball until the manager betrayed him by ordering the walk to Murphy and pitching to Molina, who promptly sent a fat fastball into the left-field seats for the three-run homer that broke the Yankees' backs.

Their hearts had already been broken when Teixeira went down. And even though he -- like Alex Rodriguez (.133) and Nick Swisher (.067) and Curtis Granderson (.182) and Jorge Posada (.167) -- hadn't hit a lick so far (in fact, Teixeira was hitless in 14 at-bats in the ALCS) his loss felt like the loss of an entire season.

"We're hoping Mark's all right," Burnett said. "We need what he brings to us, not only at the plate but defensively. We're praying for him tonight."

That prayer, among others, will go unanswered. Berkman is likely to play first in Game 5 against a lefty, C.J. Wilson, an unfavorable situation if ever there was one. The Yankees will activate Eduardo Nunez to replace Teixeira on the roster, meaning Tex will be ineligible for the World Series if the Yankees get that far, a prospect that appears highly unlikely at the moment.

Twice in Game 4, the Yankees loaded the bases but came away with just one run -- scored on a groundout. In the inning in which Teixeira went down, they had first-and-second and none out, and came away with nothing.

And their bullpen -- one of their few real strengths in the second half of the season after the acquisition of Kerry Wood -- came apart at the seams for the second straight night, allowing five runs and three home runs in the final three innings.

As a result, the Yankees have been outplayed in 35 of the 36 innings between them and the Rangers so far, and their spirit, if not broken, must certainly be bruised.

"That's a tough-minded group in there," Girardi said. "They have bounced back a lot, not just this year but in their careers, and they understand what it's all about. We have great leadership in there, and we have to find a way to get it done."

One of those leaders, Jeter, has been enjoying a resurgence in this series after a quiet ALDS. He had two big hits in the Game 1 victory and two more in the Game 4 loss, including a triple to dead center that missed being a home run by about six inches. He has never shown an ounce of quit through 15 big league seasons and has never failed to display an optimistic presence through the darkest of times.

But even he seemed to be having trouble finding much hope in a Yankee clubhouse where the only sounds were being made by the crush of reporters who outnumbered players by what seemed like 100-1.

"We had some opportunities, but we couldn't capitalize on them" Jeter said. "It's tough, but at the same time you can't sit around and feel sorry for yourself. We just have to find a way to win a game, just one game, and go from there."

But he offered no scenarios by which one win even seemed likely, let alone a three-game winning streak over a team the Yankees have been lucky to beat once so far.

That is about all the luck the Yankees have had so far this series. Last year's Yankees had the look and feel of a team of destiny, and they fulfilled that destiny with a World Series ring.

This one looks and feels a lot like a team of destiny too, even if it is a destiny of a very different kind.


This is the first time in franchise history the Yankees have ever trailed 3-1 in an ALCS. … Bernie Williams threw out the ceremonial first pitch, and then Jeter wiped him out of the postseason record books twice. The run he scored in the third was his 32nd in LCS competition, surpassing Williams' total of 31, and his double leading off the fifth was the 30th of his postseason career, surpassing Williams' 29. … Robinson Cano's second-inning home run, which may have been interfered with by a fan in the first row of the right-field bleachers, was nonetheless his third of the ALCS, putting him in a tie with Williams, Rodriguez, Darryl Strawberry and Jason Giambi for the most in Yankees ALCS history. … Berkman's second-inning shot into the seats in right field was first ruled a home run, then overturned when replays revealed that it curled to the wrong side of the foul pole. He wound up striking out. … Wednesday's Game 5 is a rematch of Sabathia and Wilson, who threw 7-plus innings of three-run ball in Game 1 only to settle for a no-decision when the Rangers' bullpen melted down. First pitch is at 4:07 p.m.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com »