In big week, Yankees coming up small

NEW YORK -- An exciting week has turned into a troubling one for the New York Yankees.

The Mets are in more turmoil heading into this weekend's Subway Series at Citi Field. But the Yankees have a dose of trauma, too, after losing three straight games at Yankee Stadium -- one to Boston and two to Tampa Bay -- capped off by Thursday night's 8-6 loss to the Rays.

"You go through a lot of different things during the course of the year, you go through the ups and downs," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after the game. "It's a long season, and you can't make too much of a few games."

Yankees starting pitcher Andy Pettitte, who had been spectacular thus far this season (5-0, 1.79 ERA entering Thursday's game), was shelled by the Rays, surrendering seven runs on nine hits in five-plus innings. The Yankees' offense battled to keep the team in the game, including scoring two runs in the ninth and bringing the tying run to the plate. But the Yanks couldn't get over the hump, and they suddenly find themselves five games behind first-place Tampa Bay.

Admittedly, the Yankees are dealing with a rash of injuries. Three of their nine regulars are now out, with catcher Jorge Posada officially going on the disabled list Thursday with a hairline fracture in his right foot. The bottom third of the order Thursday night -- Juan Miranda, Francisco Cervelli and Randy Winn -- are not the players Girardi envisioned having in those spots at the beginning of the season.

The injuries partly explain why the team is struggling -- they've lost four of their last five, and eight of their last 12. But at the same time, the injuries are troubling in and of themselves. After all, the Yanks were extremely lucky on the injury front a year ago, when they won the World Series. They haven't been nearly as lucky so far this year.

And don't forget the age factor. As brilliant as Pettitte had been coming into Thursday's start, he's 37 years old and turns 38 next month.

But Pettitte insisted he is fine.

"I felt good," Pettitte said. "I just didn't get it done tonight. They swung the bats pretty good."

"He got in some bad counts early, and it cost him," Girardi said.

The Yankees have a solid record -- 25-16, nine games over. 500. Their regular DH -- Nick Johnson -- has been moved to the 60-day DL, so he won't be back for a while. But outfielder Curtis Granderson is getting close to starting a rehab assignment. And Posada is supposed to miss only 3-4 weeks.

There are no signs of panic in the defending champs' clubhouse.

"Right where we stand, we're on pace to win 100 games," outfielder Nick Swisher said. "So let's not go jumping off any bridges just yet. We feel we still have a great team, we just had a bad little stretch."

Nonetheless, the Yankees' depleted roster doesn't take away from the fact that the Rays are absolutely rolling right now.

"They're an all-around team," Girardi said. "Their starting pitching has been outstanding, they have power, they have speed, they play defense. They're an outstanding team."

Plus they have plenty of confidence, after taking two straight in the Bronx.

"It was important to show that we can win here," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's important in regards to the mental factor. We're playing good and making great plays. Other than a few instances, it's really the way we've been playing all year."

This shaped up to be a fun week for the Yanks -- two against the Red Sox, two against the Rays, then the Subway Series to wrap it up. But after blowing a five-run lead against Boston on Tuesday, and getting beaten up two straight nights by Tampa, the good feelings have dissipated.

And five games in front sit the Rays, at a sparkling 30-11 -- the best mark in the majors. The only two teams in the past 20 years to play this many games with a better record? The 2001 Seattle Mariners (who won 116 games) and the 1998 Yankees.

The '98 Yankees ... hmmm, that was a pretty good team.

Kieran Darcy is a staff writer for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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