Groundhog Day in Seattle

SEATTLE -- Stop me if you've heard this one before: The Yankees jump on a pitcher who is expected to stomp all over them, take an early lead, reduce vaunted pitcher to the realm of the merely ordinary.

Meanwhile, their own starting pitcher, who evidently can't believe his good fortune, gives back the lead and watches as the Yankees lineup, which looked as fearsome as a tiger early in the game, goes as meek as a kitten the rest of the way.

And inevitably, the bullpen blows it all in the end.

Not only have you heard this one, you saw it Friday night, when the Yankees smacked around rookie phenom Michael Pineda only to see A.J. Burnett, Boone Logan and Luis Ayala hand it all back again.

Well, Saturday night was remarkably, or sickeningly familiar. On this night, the victim was Felix Hernandez -- King Felix himself, the reigning Cy Young Award winner who as a 19-year-old sent Mark Teixeira back to the bench shaking his head and muttering his praises.

Teixeira belted one of Hernandez's offerings for a two-run homer in the third, an inning after Robinson Cano had lined a solo shot out of the park, and it was déjà vu all over again.

Only in the worst possible way, of course.

After Teixeira's home run, the Yankees' bats went dead for the next 3 2/3 innings, allowing the King to reconvene his court, while Ivan Nova unraveled in a hurry. Even though the Yankees wound up tying the game at 4 on Curtis Granderson's seventh-inning triple, there always was hanging in the air a feeling of dread, as if the horror movie that just ended was about to be replayed.

And it was, only by different characters. This time, Joe Girardi went to David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain before Logan and Ayala, and after Hector Noesi had given him 2 1/3 brilliant innings of emergency mop-up work. And this time, all the middle relievers did their job well.

This time, it was Mariano Rivera, of all people, who provided the horrific ending, allowing three hits, two of them bloops, in the 12th to give the Mariners the winning run in a 5-4 victory.

But the real story here is not Rivera, or Nova, or King Felix.

It is the disturbing lack of killer instinct on this Yankees team, which time and again seems to come roaring out of the gate only to gradually go flat, like a tire leaking, slowly but inevitably, from a pinhole.

The offense had its moments -- aside from the two homers and Granderson's triple, Derek Jeter had two hits and the slumping Cano wound up with three -- but once again, this lineup seems to think its work is done the first time it establishes a lead.

Once again, the Yankees lost a game in which they were trailing after six -- the tally is now 3-17 -- and once again, there doesn't seem to be all that much late fight in this ballclub. The pies, wherever they are kept, must be growing stale due to lack of use. The ability to come back from any deficit, a hallmark of the 2009 championship team, seems like an impossible task to this one.

And things started so well. As they had Friday, the Yankees approached their difficult task with patience and discipline, forcing a less-than-sharp Hernandez into deep counts as they had with Pineda the night before.

And when he made a mistake, they punished it. Cano's shot was a sizzling liner into the low right-field seats. Teixeira's a moon shot to right-center. Even Granderson's triple barely missed becoming his 17th homer of the season.

But once again, the starter couldn't live up to his good fortune -- Nova, like Burnett on Friday, had control problems, walking three, hitting a batter and uncorking a wild pitch.

And for the middle innings, it was as if there was no Yankees offense. After Teixeira's homer, the offense went 2-for-15 until Granderson tripled home Jeter, who had walked.

And even though this time Girardi skillfully manipulated his bullpen, the shortage of manpower finally caught up with him; had Rivera survived the 12th, only Lance Pendleton remained in his 'pen.

Once again, the Yankees got the game they hoped to get, an off-night by an elite opposing pitcher, a good night out of their bats, at least early, and a decent job out of their bullpen.

The only thing that didn't fit was the ending, when everything went wrong. By now, you'd think the Yankees would know that in a horror movie, it's best to kill the beast early, lest he stick around long enough to come back and kill you.