Commentary

Yankees are scary bad these days

Bombers follow Thursday horror show vs. Royals with a Friday the 13th loss to BoSox

Updated: May 14, 2011, 3:18 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- There are more directions in which to point the finger of blame for the latest New York Yankees defeat than there is movement on Bartolo Colon's fastball.

You can start with the offense, which boasts two certain Hall of Famers, one borderline Hall of Famer and at least one potential Hall of Famer, and yet has been unable to come up with a timely hit in seven of the past 10 games.

You could point to the defense, which boasts a Gold Glover at every position but could not turn a crucial double play at the key moment of a ballgame against the Boston Red Sox on Friday night.

You could point to the bullpen, Joba Chamberlain in particular on this night, who got ahead of Kevin Youkilis only to serve up a home run pitch that cost the Yankees the game.

[+] EnlargeJoba Chamberlain
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIJoba Chamberlain took the blame after the game -- though there was plenty to go around.

Or you could point at the manager -- some people always do, regardless of circumstance and heedless of common sense -- for pulling his starter, Colon, at a point in the game when he still appeared to be strong and effective.

Every one of them has its attributes and its drawbacks, and as Billy Martin once did in a beer commercial, you could argue very strongly in all directions.

But there is one point that is indisputable: Right now, the New York Yankees are not a very good baseball team, and not in any aspect of the game.

Friday night's 5-4 loss to the Red Sox was their seventh loss in the past 10 games. When this stretch began, on May 1, the Yankees were 2½ games ahead of the rest of the American League East. Now, they are two games behind the Tampa Bay Rays, in second place. And the Red Sox, who started the season 0-6, are three games behind the Yankees and closing.

Over the first half of this tailspin, it always seemed as if the team was never firing on all cylinders. The Yankees would get a good pitching performance but the bats would go dead. Or they would begin to hit, and the bullpen would let them down or the starting pitcher would put them in a hole they couldn't quite crawl out of.

But starting around the eighth inning of Wednesday night's game against the Kansas City Royals, of all teams, a full-scale rot seemed to settle in.

Suddenly, the Yankees could do nothing right in any aspect of the game. Thursday night's 11-5 loss was not only their worst of the season, but the worst I have seen out of the Yankees in a long, long time. Not only did they lose, after a horrendous, six-run second inning, but they seemed to have given up. It was a positively Metsian performance.

Which brings us to Friday night.

The Yankees got a decent performance out of Colon, fresh off the either comical or potentially devastating report that he had undergone a radical treatment involving the injection of his own fat, among other things, into his elbow and shoulder, a treatment that has miraculously revived his career. But after six innings and one batter, Joe Girardi had seen enough.

Colon had thrown 103 pitches, the last an 0-2 slider that Jarrod Saltalamacchia lashed into right for a single leading off the seventh. At that point, Girardi went to Chamberlain, who had performed brilliantly Tuesday night.

And in truth, with a break here or there, Chamberlain might have escaped the seventh without any damage. But Robinson Cano couldn't turn a double play on Jacoby Ellsbury's grounder up the middle, and Dustin Pedroia placed a hit-and-run single in the perfect spot, and Adrian Gonzalez, who had homered off Colon in the fourth, fought off a 2-2 fastball to drive in the go-ahead run.

However, at that point, it's all on Chamberlain, or whoever is calling his pitches. Because after getting ahead 1-2 on Youkilis and making him look bad on a slider, Chamberlain grooved a fastball that wound up in the right-field seats. That gave the Red Sox a 5-3 lead and, the way the Yankees have been hitting, the ballgame.

The fans knew it before anyone else, because as soon as Nick Swisher fanned and Jorge Posada grounded out to strand runners at second and third in the eighth, half the crowd of 48,254 -- only the second sellout of the year at Yankee Stadium -- made a dash for the exits, seemingly leaving only Red Sox fans behind.

It was a sorry spectacle all around. After the game, Girardi was argumentative and snappish, at a loss for answers to his team's woes and with little patience for being questioned about it.

Asked about the decision to throw Youkilis a fastball after he had shown a decided vulnerability to the slider, Girardi said, "If I was to question it, I wouldn't tell anyone in this room. Scouting reports are something that are near and dear to our hearts, and we don't share them with the public."

And asked whether he thought his drooping hitters were "gripping the bats a little too tight," a common baseball euphemism for trying too hard, Girardi said, peevishly, "Well, it would be really hard for me to see them gripping the bat tighter from where I'm standing."

Clearly, the one gripping the tightest was the manager.

Rebounding from a bad start against the Rangers six days ago, Colon was hitting 96 mph on the gun with regularity and -- aside from the fourth inning, when in addition to the Gonzales home run his wildness (two walks and a passed ball) resulted in a second Boston run -- was in command through six.

Still, Girardi defended his quick hook on Colon, who had not thrown more than 99 pitches in any of his previous five starts. "He had thrown the ball good," Girardi said. "But Ellsbury had some pretty good at-bats off of him, so he was gonna face the one hitter and that was it."

Which left him with the choice of David Robertson or Chamberlain to finish up the seventh. Three night before, Joba was the perfect choice, coming in to relieve Freddy Garcia against the Royals and striking out two of the three hitters he faced to get the baseball into the safe right hand of Mariano Rivera.

On Friday night, Joba turned out to be precisely the wrong choice, which, frankly, has been his pattern. He made 12 appearances in April, eight of which were excellent, four of which were bad to terrible. This was his fifth appearance in May, and all four of his previous ones had been good. Perhaps it was just his time.

In any event, he was honest and candid about his failure. He shrugged off suggestions that Cano should have turned the DP or that someone should have gotten a glove on Pedroia's single through an infield looking for a bunt.

"They're doing everything they can to make the plays," Chamberlain said. "And I still have a job to do and I didn't do it."

Nor would he lay the blame on anyone for the pitch selection to Youkilis. "Russell [Martin] and I were on the same page, and we threw the pitch with conviction," he said. "As soon as I let it go, I knew it wasn't a good pitch. I knew he put a good swing on it."

It was admirable of Chamberlain to take the bullet for this one, but in truth, it would take a firing squad to hit all the targets who had a hand in what could turn out to be a pivotal loss.

There are two more games left with the Red Sox this weekend, and the way the Yankees are playing right now, it would shock no one if they got swept. At that point, you can throw away the Red Sox's horrible start, forget about the Yankees' great start and remember the preseason predictions of all those "experts" who called for Boston to run away with the AL East.

"We've still got 120 games to go," Chamberlain said. "Let's talk about this in September. Maybe then we'll have some answers for you."

Right now, September seems very far away indeed. And October?

Only good baseball teams get that far. And right now, the New York Yankees are anything but that.

• • •

Martin, who in his brief time as a Yankee has begun to establish a reputation as a Red Sox killer, hit a two-run home run to tie the game at 2 in the fifth. It was his seventh of the season and third against Boston. ... Curtis Granderson continues to be the only Yankee hitting with regularity and authority. He tripled in the eighth and scored on a wild pitch. ... Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Cano were a combined 2-for-16, and one of those was an infield single. ... Jeter's single in the ninth gave him 2,964 for his career and leapfrogged Sam Crawford for 29th on the all-time list. ... Through an interpreter, Colon referred all questions about his treatment, which is being investigated by Major League Baseball because it might have involved the use of a banned substance, to the MLB Players Association. ... The Yankee Stadium PA system went out in the sixth inning, and for a rare time the game itself took center stage, minus the intrusion of blaring rock music and obnoxious, overamplified advertisements. Nice if they would consider making it permanent. ... CC Sabathia (3-2, 2.89 ERA) faces RHP Josh Beckett (2-1, 1.99) Saturday night, first pitch at 7:10 ET. On April 10, Beckett outdueled Sabathia at Fenway Park, holding the Yankees to two hits over eight innings in a 4-0 victory.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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