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Mental miscues making Yankees look bad

BALTIMORE -- Oh, for a return to the glory days when all the bonehead plays, all the mental errors and baserunning gaffes made by the New York Yankees seemed to be the work of Didi Gregorius!

Now, Gregorius seems to have cleaned up his act. It's the rest of his teammates who are making a mess of things.

Friday night, it was Chase Headley committing his 14th error of the season, leading to a big inning for the Baltimore Orioles, and it was Brett Gardner and Carlos Beltran, two guys with more than a quarter-century of big-league outfield experience between them, allowing a routine fly ball to drop between them, leading to nothing, really, but one more embarrassment in an 11-3 defeat.

And on Saturday, it was Mark Teixeira, a five-time Gold Glove first baseman, and Brian McCann, considered a pretty fair defensive catcher, performing the old Alphonse-and-Gaston vaudeville routine -- "After you! No, after you!" -- as what should have been a harmless foul pop-up off the bat of Nolan Reimold settled on the grass between their feet. That turned out to be tremendously destructive, since on the next pitch, Reimold drilled a cookie from CC Sabathia into the right-field seats, wiping out an early 2-0 Yankees lead and setting the tone for the disaster to come.

"I have no idea. I have no idea," an ashen Joe Girardi said after the Yankees' 9-4 loss Saturday night at Camden Yards when asked how such a thing could have happened two nights in a row. "You gotta open your mouth, that’s the bottom line. They’re too experienced not to open their mouths."

Both Teixeira and McCann admitted neither of them called for the ball. Both of them acknowledged that the ball was well within their grasp. And neither could provide a suitable explanation of why it wasn't caught.

"It was catchable," McCann said. "It was in play. We both just ran to the wrong spot."

"You try to get to the rail in that spot because you know you're going to be dealing with the dugout," Teixeira said. "I got to the corner of the rail and just ended up being in a bad spot. If I get over there maybe a step quicker, I can make the adjustment and catch it. It's just one of those unfortunate plays."

Girardi acknowledged that on that kind of a play, it is generally the fielder -- in this case, the first baseman -- who is expected to make the catch. But Teixeira and McCann stood there staring at one another as if each expected the other one to handle it.

"We're making our pitchers throw more pitches than we should," McCann said. "If we catch that pop-up, it's a different ballgame."

Uh, probably not. For one thing, there's no way to know what would have happened had Reimold fouled out, as he should have. Maybe Sabathia leaves the same belt-high, 89 MPH two-seamer over the plate to the next hitter, Adam Jones, who also has been known to hit the ball out of the park. Or maybe Delmon Young does it, or Chris Davis.

And it had nothing to do with the two-run homer Manny Machado hit off him in the fifth inning that gave Baltimore a 4-2 lead.

And of course, the third-inning screwup had nothing to do with Chris Martin's implosion, in which he allowed three runs on four hits and three wild pitches -- you read that right -- in the sixth inning, or with Sergio Santos' disappointing debut, in which his second pitch in a Yankee uniform was hit out of the park, just barely, by pinch-hitter David Lough.

And it would not have changed the fact that after scoring two quick runs off Baltimore starter Bud Norris in the first inning, the Yankees went through a stretch of 4-1/3 innings with just one hit before Alex Rodriguez tied the game with a two-run homer in the sixth.

But what it did was point to the incongruity of a team that was supposed to have beefed up its defense in the offseason but is instead looking so horrendous in the field for most of this season.

And it warned you that despite their recent stretch of excellent baseball, in which they reeled off seven straight wins including back-to-back sweeps of the Seattle Mariners and L.A. Angels, the Yankees are a team with very little margin for error due to the inability of their starters to pitch deep into ballgames, the unreliability of their middle relief, the inconsistency of their bats, and yes, the circus act that is their defense.

All season long, Girardi has said he can live with the physical errors, but it is the mental mistakes that tear him up.

"They shouldn’t happen," Girardi said. "Especially with the experience we have out there. They shouldn’t happen."

But they do happen, they are happening, and unless someone on the Yankees figures out why they are happening, the Yankees will not only continue to lose, but also to look bad.

Maybe it's time for Didi Gregorius, who showed improvement soon after getting advice from A-Rod, to impart some of his new-found wisdom to the rest of his teammates.

NOTES: Sabathia, whose career record against the Orioles is now 18-8, is winless in his past seven starts at Camden, going 0-5 with a 5.60 ERA. ... Martin's three wild pitches in one inning were the most by a Yankee pitcher in a game since Hiroki Kuroda did it right here last July 11. ... Mason Williams made two outstanding plays in center, running into the wall on one of them, but suffered just a slightly bruised right knee.