August doesn't start for two more days, but the dog days seem to have already begun for the New York Yankees.
The most solid contact they made all night came when Brett Gardner, frustrated over swinging through a Kevin Gregg slider to end the game Friday night, frustrated over not getting the call on a 3-1 pitch he thought was outside, frustrated over stranding the tying run on base, frustrated over going 0-for-5, reduced his bat to a pair of long, useless slivers of ash with two furious hacks at the ground next to home plate.
Who knew Gardner could hit anything so hard?
"That bat didn't get any hits tonight, so it was time to retire it anyway,'' Gardner said ruefully after Friday night's 4-2 loss to Jeremy Guthrie and the Baltimore Orioles, who generally play foils to the Yankees.
In that case, a lot of Gardner's teammates should have reduced their weapons to firewood.
"A lot of times you're going to score more than four runs but tonight we didn't,'' said Joe Girardi. "You're going to go through that over the course of a season where you don't score some runs. That's just baseball. Then there's going to be days where you explode. You look for consistency but sometimes you're just not going to score runs.''
Stop me if you've read this before: the $200 million-plus Yankees lineup, the lineup that leads the major leagues in home runs and most nights can score like Hugh Hefner in his prime, was neutralized by a pitcher who can be described as average at best.
Against the rest of the league this year, Jeremy Guthrie was below average, 4-14 coming in. Against the Yankees, he was usually easy pickings, with a lifetime record of 3-9 and 5.66 ERA.
But now, you can add his name to a list including the likes of Doug Davis, R.A. Dickey, Carlos Carrasco, Rick Porcello, Sean O'Sullivan, Phil Humber, Max Scherzer (twice) and Jeremy Hellickson, who have humbled the team sometimes known as the Bronx Bombers.
"I think Guthrie's win-loss record, I think he's pitched better than what those numbers show,'' Girardi said, repeating a familiar refrain. "And I think he's got good stuff. We've had some success off him. Tonight we didn't. I thought he used his off-speed really effectively when behind in the count, and I thought he used his fastball really well. He didn't beat himself, and he didn't walk people.''
In his seven innings, Guthrie allowed just four hits, one an opposite-field bloop to Jorge Posada and one a home run, No. 29, to Mark Teixeira in the sixth inning with the Yankees trailing 4-0. Otherwise, there weren't many hard-hit balls off Guthrie or many good at-bats.
Just about everything hit off A.J. Burnett, on the other hand, was loud. Although he equaled his season-high by going eight innings, and struck out a season-high 10 batters, the five hits he allowed were rockets -- three doubles and two home runs to Mark Reynolds and Derrek Lee.
Still, the Yankees should be able to overcome four runs allowed over eight innings, especially against a pitcher as normally pedestrian as Guthrie and a team as prone to losing as the Orioles, who brought the worst record in the American League with them to the Bronx (41-60).
It's generally tough to feel sorry for Burnett, but on this night, as on at least three other occasions this season, he could have sued for non-support. "I can't control what they do,'' Burnett said of the Yankees offense. "I can only control what I do. I'll take what I did today, minus the one mistake.''
That mistake was a first-pitch fastball that Reynolds belted out of the park for a two-run shot in the second inning. But overall, Burnett (8-9, 4.23) was pleased with his own work.
"It's a big step mentally,'' he said. "I didn't let the home run bother me, I didn't let the other one bother me, I went out there every time with the inning's in the past, close the door and start a fresh inning and gave it all I could out there and it was just that one mistake. I can't wait to pitch the next game.''
It's tough to tell if the Yankee offense feels the same way, because everyone other than Burnett and Gardner fled the clubhouse as if a fire alarm had gone off.
Gardner, the man left holding just a stick in his hand at home plate at the end of the game, was left to speak for the rest of them. His final at-bat was marred by a bad swing at a 1-0 pitch in the dirt, and a close call by home plate umpire Mike DiMuro on the 3-1 pitch that Gardner thought was outside.
"I thought it was outside, but it really doesn't matter what I thought,'' he said. "It doesn't matter where it was at. I wasn't happy with it. I was just frustrated with myself. We were putting together a good rally in the ninth inning, trying to make a good comeback and it's never fun to be the guy to make the last out by going down swinging."
At least someone on the Yankees did. The rest of them played as if they were deep into the dog days of August and wanted nothing more than to take a good, long nap.
With three games left before leaving on a seven-game road trip to Chicago and Boston, the Yankees are 4-3 on this homestand and 8-7 since returning after the All-Star break . . . Posada reached base four times, singling twice and walking twice . . . Gardner wasn't the only one to throw a fit after striking out. Robbie Cano bounced his helmet off the dirt after fanning to end the sixth . . . Bartolo Colon (7-6, 3.29) pitches the first game of Saturday's day-night doubleheader vs. Mr. TBA, and Ivan Nova (8-4, 4.12), called up from AAA Scranton for the day at least, will start the second game against LHP Zach Britton (6-7, 4.05). Start times are 1:05 p.m. and 7:05 p.m.