- Wallace Matthews, ESPNNewYork.com
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- It is oddly fitting that a game that went 18 innings and took nearly six hours to play ended on two singles hit with broken bats.
Because with the exception of one of those 18 innings, the Yankees hit as if they, too, were using broken bats.
The end came at nearly sundown West Coast time Thursday evening, when Mariano Rivera, pitching way past his baseball bedtime, shattered Nate Freiman's bat -- only to see the ball flutter into short left field, scoring John Jaso from third and putting the Yankees out of three days of misery.
But that is not where the game was really lost, not by a longshot.
It was lost in the third inning, when catcher Chris Stewart tagged a runner at home with an empty glove, and it was lost in the sixth, when the Yankees had a runner at second with one out and couldn't get him home, and it was lost again in the 11th inning, when they loaded the bases and couldn't score, and again in the 12th and the 13th and the 14th, when the same sickening scenario played out over and over again, like a horror movie on an endless loop.
Most of all, the game was lost because of numbers like this: Mark Teixeira, 0-for-5 and four runners left stranded; Travis Hafner, 0-for-8 and seven runners left stranded; Vernon Wells, 0-for-8 with three strikeouts, and Kevin Youkilis, 0-for-7 with three strikeouts, a double play and five runners left stranded.
In fact, Teixeira, Hafner, Youkilis and Wells, the heart of the Yankees' batting order, were a combined 0-for-28 and struck out 12 times.
"That's a no-hitter in itself," Teixeira said ruefully. "That's not good."
Neither was the entire week, in which the Yankees went "Oh-for-O-Town" and fell from 1½ games behind the Red Sox in the AL East to three games back.
Weeks like this are bound to happen to a team over the course of a season. But games like this are never supposed to happen to one player in a big-time lineup, let alone four of the most important.
"You're probably not going to see that very often," a sick-looking Joe Girardi said. "My guess is we probably won't see that the rest of the year."
But the truth is, it is what we have seen throughout this month, which is now just about half over.
Here are the tragic numbers for June: Wells, who started out so wonderfully, hitting .300 with six home runs in April, is 4-for-42 this month (.095), and every one of his hits have been singles. His batting average is down to .229.
Hafner, a fearsome force in the middle of the order in April and May, is 4-for-35 in June (.114) with two home runs. Youkilis, who returned from the DL at the end of May, is 5-for-37 (.135) in June, with no RBIs.
Teixeira, whose season only began on May 31, is 8-for-46 (.174), although he does have three home runs and 12 RBIs.
Even Robinson Cano has been scuffling, hitting just .233 this month, with two home runs and six RBIs.
But if Cano had not hit one of those home runs in the first inning, with Brett Gardner, the team's only hot hitter, on base, this one likely would have ended with the humiliation of a nine-inning shutout loss.
After that first inning, the Yankees only had three hits the rest of the way, wasting another stellar effort by Hiroki Kuroda, who gave them eight innings of two-hit, two-run ball, only to be reduced to a footnote at the bottom of the box score.
The Yankees not only wasted Kuroda's effort, they wasted six innings of work from Adam Warren, a forgotten Yankee for nearly two weeks -- he last pitched on June 1 -- but a vital one in this game, holding the A's scoreless on four hits. For his trouble, Warren will probably get a one-way ticket to Triple-A Scranton today, since the Yankees will need to call up reinforcements for their battered bullpen for Friday's series opener against the Angels in Anaheim.
The Yankees also wasted a two-hit day by Gardner, who has the highest batting average in their starting lineup (.284) and a three-hit day by Cano, who had two doubles in addition to his 16th home run.
And they wasted a great play by Stewart, who atoned from his third-inning mistake by absorbing a big hit from Brandon Moss at the plate while holding on to the baseball, saving the game (temporarily) in the 15th inning.
Mostly, they have squandered whatever equity they had built up early in the season when guys like Wells and Hafner, claimed off the scrap heap, started out performing the way they had in their primes and creating the illusion that somehow, a team that looked as if it were held together with spit and dental floss during spring training might actually be able to make a run for the division title.
Now, the Yankees look like exactly what they seemed to be in March, when they were still frantically scouring the other training camps to plug the gaps left by the injuries to Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Teixeira.
"You don't want everybody to be going through it at once," said Wells, whose average dropped from .237 to .229 in one game. "In theory, you'd like half your guys, if they're going to be struggling, that the other guys are still swinging the bat well. For the most part, it's been the whole group."
After Wednesday night's 5-2 loss, another game in which the middle of the Yankees order was as solid as a doughnut hole -- the same four went 0-for-18 -- hitting coach Kevin Long was trotted out to explain how his entire batting order could go cold all at once.
"I think the key is guys in the middle of the lineup," Long had said. "You need those guys to produce and pick up RBIs and big hits, and right now that's not happening. We've just got to stay at it, stay positive, and this thing will turn around."
After Thursday's loss, Long was nowhere to be found, and really, what more could he say?
The foundation upon which the Yankees offense is built this season is shattered even worse than the bats Rivera broke in the 18th inning of the most devastating loss of the season.
In short, the bats are broken, and nobody seems to know how to fix them.