It's just one loss ... until it isn't

BOSTON -- Sometimes the journey of a lifetime begins with a stumble, as the New York Yankees' did last year when CC Sabathia, their brand-spanking-new $161 million offseason acquisition, fell on his face on Opening Day against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.

And sometimes it begins with a headlong plunge down a flight of steps, which is what Sunday night's 9-7 loss to the Boston Red Sox at Fenway looked like and, no doubt, felt like.

Last year's journey ended pretty well for the Yankees, and this one may as well.

After all, it's only one game, a mantra that Yankee after Yankee, starting with their manager, repeated in the clubhouse after the game. Last year, there were eight like this one before they finally figured out how to beat the Red Sox.

At final tally, the Yankees were eight games ahead in the AL East and on their way to a World Series title.

But it's one game you don't want to see again anytime soon, or too often this year, or that fall down the steps could turn out to be a plunge into a bottomless pit.

Sure, no lead is safe here -- another favorite clubhouse mantra -- and, yeah, the names may have changed but those Red Sox still are explosive. Still, the bottom line is this: The Yankees scored seven runs with their ace on the mound and couldn't come away with a win. At the halfway point of the game, they held a 5-1 lead against a retooled Boston lineup that was supposed to be geared toward run prevention rather than run production, but it was the Yankees who couldn't prevent the sky from falling.

The Yankees' new lineup did just fine, even with the 2-3-4 hitters combining for just one hit in 12 at-bats and no RBIs, mainly because the bottom of the order, the guys who are supposed to be here for their gloves, picked up the slack. Curtis Granderson hit a long home run in his first at-bat as a Yankee, Jorge Posada proved he could still turn on a fastball at 38 years old when he smacked a Josh Beckett heater off the Pesky Pole, and Brett Gardner, who spent most of his spring working on bunting, had two well-stroked singles and drove in a run.

The problem area turned out to be the bullpen, which was supposed to be a strength. Dave Robertson, asked to pick up a tiring Sabathia, allowed a game-tying single on the first pitch he threw. Chan Ho Park, staked to a two-run lead to start the seventh, promptly gave it back on a home run to Dustin Pedroia. Damaso Marte, asked to clean up the mess Park left behind, allowed the go-ahead run to score on a wild pitch and a fastball that sailed past Posada for a passed ball.

And Joba Chamberlain, once the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera, got smacked around in the eighth and allowed the Sox an insurance run.

Obviously, the job of setup man is still up for grabs, but when it comes to mop-up men, the Yankees appear to be all set.

"We had a hard time getting the ball to Mo tonight and that's gonna happen from time to time,'' Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I still have a lot of faith in those guys."

Girardi's attitude was echoed by a bemused Derek Jeter. "It's only one game,'' he said. "If it's something that happens continually over a long period of time, you might start to worry about it, but not after one day. Hey, we're gonna see these guys 100 times this year.''

At least it will feel that way on nights when the Yankees play like this. The bullpen wasn't the only problem, just the most obvious one. The fielding was ragged -- Gardner allowed two runners to advance with a throw home that would have embarrassed Johnny Damon, and Nick Swisher misplayed a Kevin Youkilis liner to right into a triple -- and some of the preseason worries, such as Granderson's inability to hit lefties and Cano's inability to hit in the clutch, reared their ugly heads at the worst possible times.

"It was nice to hit a home run,'' Granderson said, "But all anyone will remember is that I didn't come through at the end when it counted.''

Not, of course, if this journey ends the way last year's did, with the ragged start in Baltimore forgotten and the 0-8 start against the Red Sox relegated to the realm of the misleading statistic.

"It's only one game,'' Girardi said. "You don't make too much out of one game.''

That is, as long as you don't see too many more like it.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.