- Wallace Matthews, ESPNNewYork.com
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MILWAUKEE -- The New York Yankees finished their weeklong road trip in the same fashion as the final two innings of Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers -- three up, three down.
And while on paper that might not look too bad, this was the kind of trip that was worse than the sum of its parts. Because the three games they lost were of the type that are the toughest to take. On Monday in Anaheim, they gave up three runs without a hit and with six walks in one inning. At Miller Park on Saturday it was three home runs off CC Sabathia that put them in trouble but a balk by Alfredo Aceves that ultimately put them out of business. And on Sunday, it was a shattered-bat double that skipped just over the first-base bag after a dramatic ninth-inning comeback.
Add to that the loss of Sabathia for an indeterminate time with a knee injury, and you have all the makings of a week we might look upon months from now as the beginnings of a disaster.
Or, it may all blow over, with the help of the New York Mets, the Yankees' opponents for the next four games this week.
But judging by the hush in the Yankees' clubhouse and the veins bulging in manager Joe Girardi's neck, Sunday in Milwaukee was anything but a happy time in Yankeeville.
"They’re all tough to take," Girardi said. "We lost two tough games here. You look at the road trip, we lost three tough games. We end up 3-3, and we very easily could have been 4-2, 5-1, maybe even 6-0."
That would have left them at 22-14 and in command, for now, of the AL East. Instead, they are coming home at 19-17, 1½ games behind the Baltimore Orioles and a half-game ahead of the Boston Red Sox. There are still a ton of games left to play, but suddenly, a team that seemed so rich in starting pitching in spring training is now left wondering who is going to pitch for them.
Sunday was David Phelps' day, and he is only in the rotation because Michael Pineda is down for what the Yankees had originally said would be 3-4 weeks with a back muscle strain. Now, Girardi is saying it could be closer to six weeks, which puts Pineda's return somewhere closer to the middle of June.
Phelps is a competent big league pitcher, but no one's idea of an ace, and he pitched a competent, if rather short, big league game on Sunday, working into the sixth inning and being charged with four earned runs. By his own admission, this was unsatisfactory work, since his teammates had staked him to a 3-0 first-inning lead.
"I just wasn’t putting them away and they were just finding holes," Phelps said. "It’s frustrating. Gave up a double to the pitcher and stuff like that. Got to do a better job. They gave me a three-run lead early, and I just let them claw back in little by little.”
That opposite-field double by Matt Garza leading off the third, sparking a two-run rally, seemed to irk Phelps the most, but he wasn't thrilled by the sixth inning, either, when he left two runners on base with no out after a leadoff single by Jean Segura, followed by a sinking liner that Ichiro Suzuki tried to make a sliding catch on only to have it drop in front of him.
"It looked like we had a chance to double him off," Girardi lamented. "We thought we had a shot at it. It kinda led to them scoring another run."
Three more, to be exact, as Matt Thornton allowed an RBI single to pinch-hitter Jonathan Lucroy, the only batter he faced, and Dellin Betances gave up an RBI double to Logan Schafer and an RBI groundout to Rickie Weeks after Carlos Gomez had done the Yankees a huge favor by trying to bunt and fouling out to the catcher.
Still, the Yankees had renewed life when Mark Teixeira crushed a changeup from Francisco Rodriguez, the heretofore Perfect Closer, with 15 saves in 15 attempts. It was Tex's seventh homer of the year, on a two-out, 3-2 pitch tying the game one strike from defeat. But it turned out to be a temporary stay of execution when Weeks, his bat splintered by Adam Warren's 3-2 fastball, got enough of it to send the baseball over first base and up the line for a one-out double. After a strikeout and a wild pitch, ex-Yankee Mark Reynolds shot one through the hole between third and shortstop, and the Yankees called it a road trip.
And on balance, a bad road trip.
"They're all tough losses, but we've got to like the way that we keep battling," Derek Jeter said. "We just fell a little bit short today, but you've got to like that we keep battling. I think that's the thing that you've got to look at and take the positives from that."
Like the road trip, the three Yankees losses could have gone either way. Now, with Sabathia down and the team scrambling for pitching, you might say the same about the rest of the season.
Jeter honored: Derek Jeter got a ceremonial bat, a set of golf clubs and a $10,000 check for his foundation from the Brewers before the game, and said afterward he believed the bat, which appeared to be bronze from the press box, is actually gold-plated. But what Jeter said he appreciated most of all was the reception from the sellout Miller Park crowd of 43,554, which despite not containing many Yankees fans, stood and cheered before his every at-bat and gave him a standing ovation as he ran off the field for the last time after grounding out in the ninth inning.
"The fans, they were great all three games," Jeter said. "It makes you think that you did something right, I guess, throughout your career. It's something I don't ever expect, but it's greatly appreciated."
Bright spots: Aside from Teixeira's home run, there were two, and both are rookies: Yangervis Solarte went 2-for-2 with a walk, a sacrifice fly, two RBIs and a couple of excellent plays at second base, a position he has rarely played this season, and John Ryan Murphy, getting his once-a-week start behind the plate, went 3-for-4 and threw Weeks out stealing in the sixth. Also, Kelly Johnson, who lost the third-base job with the emergence of Solarte, made the most of his rare start with a two-run ground-rule double that bounced over the right-center field fence in the first inning.
Tex tired: If it appeared that Teixeira was lumbering around the bases even slower than usual Sunday, you're right. Tex took an especially long time to make the round-trip after his ninth-inning home run but said simple fatigue, not injury, is what slowed him down.
"I was on the bases a lot this week and my legs aren't feeling too good right now," he said. "I was telling Carlos [Beltran], ‘I feel like I’ve got two cement blocks on my feet.' But I'll be fine. Just a little tired.”
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