NEW YORK -- The outlook for the New York Yankees is getting darker, uglier and hairier by the day. In a strange, inexplicable way, the end of their season is paralleling the growth of San Francisco closer Brian Wilson's beard.
There was a time when the Yankees would welcome an overwhelmed opponent to the Bronx for one of these October wars of attrition, and the result was preordained. The New York lineup would run up the pitch count on a helpless fourth starter and flog an outmanned bullpen, and you'd look up after four hours and the Yankees would be exchanging high-fives in the infield.
Not this time. The letter from the IRS arrived on Tuesday to inform them the audit was forthcoming. The valet parking guy put a big scratch in the Mercedes. First baseman Mark Teixeira suffered a season-ending hamstring injury. And just when it appeared the Yankees had hit bottom, Sergio Mitre arrived to pitch the top of the ninth.
With a 10-3 loss to Texas on Tuesday night, the Yankees moved within one defeat of elimination in the American League Championship Series. They'll try to muster some resistance late Wednesday afternoon when CC Sabathia takes on C.J. Wilson in Game 5. But a return trip to Arlington isn't assured, and now it's clear the Yankees won't be winning a second straight pennant unless they take two straight from the Rangers and then beat the seemingly invincible Cliff Lee on Texas soil. Talk about a daunting set of circumstances.
"You can't worry about winning three,'' shortstop Derek Jeter said. "Three doesn't mean anything unless you win one. So we're trying to come [Wednesday] and win a game.''
All the determination and focus in the world can't obscure the obvious: The Yankees have been outscored 30-11 in the series. They're being outhit .307 to .198, and are batting .154 (6-for-39) with runners in scoring position. And now they'll have to play without Teixeira, who had to be helped off the field after grabbing his right hamstring while trying to leg out a ground ball in the fifth inning.
The result: A Grade 2 strain that won't be right for 6-8 weeks. Eduardo Nunez will fill the void on the roster, and Teixeira won't be playing baseball again until the Grapefruit League in March. His 0-for-14 performance against Texas is the worst 0-fer by a Yankee in any postseason series, surpassing Joe Collins' 0-for-12 clunker in the 1952 World Series against Brooklyn.
The Rangers, meanwhile, are loose, energetic and honing in for the kill. By all rights, they should already be celebrating the franchise's first pennant. Texas built a 5-0 lead in the series opener only to watch in horror as New York sent 10 men to the plate in the eighth inning, scored five times and won 6-5. But rather than adopt a "woe is us'' posture, the Rangers banded together and ramped up their game.
"They've got a great mojo going right now, if you will,'' New York's Lance Berkman said. "They're a cohesive unit. You can tell they enjoy playing together, and they're dangerous. I'm biased toward our lineup, but outside of us, I think they have the best lineup in the game. When you have to navigate that and you're not perfect, they can hurt you. They've done that the last couple of nights.''
You can't worry about winning three. Three doesn't mean anything unless you win one. So we're trying to come [Wednesday] and win a game.
”-- Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter
If Lee isn't carving up the strike zone for the Rangers, Josh Hamilton is hitting home runs, Nelson Cruz is running the bases with abandon and shortstop Elvis Andrus is making big plays in the field to take the starch out of New York rallies. Texas' bullpen continues to look vulnerable at times, but it hardly matters when the Rangers are going to town against every New York reliever not named Kerry Wood or Mariano Rivera.
It took the Rangers four hours, five minutes to make Tuesday's win official, in a game that included everything but a midge infestation off the Hudson River:
• Longtime Yankees favorite Bernie Williams threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Within five innings, Jeter had broken Williams' career LCS record for runs scored (32) and surpassed his career mark for postseason doubles (30).
• Robinson Cano homered in the second inning on a ball that eluded Cruz's glove in right and glanced off a fan's hands before bouncing into the seats. But umpire Jim Reynolds was sufficiently confident that the ball was out of Cruz's reach that he disdained a video review. When Texas manager Ron Washington came out to argue, Reynolds told him, "Ron, the ball was in the stands.''
Three innings later, New York left fielder Brett Gardner was on the verge of catching a foul pop in the seats when a fan reached up and stole the ball from his grasp.
"Rangers fan,'' Gardner said. "Might as well be.''
This had to be the first game ever to feature both Jeffrey Maier and Steve Bartman moments.
• The umpires did go to the replay booth two batters after Cano's homer to rule that a Berkman home run down the right-field line had sailed foul. Berkman got back in the box and took a called third strike to end the inning.
• New York starter A.J. Burnett, who allowed a major league-high 37 stolen bases and 19 hit-by-pitches this season, plunked Bengie Molina with an 81 mph curveball and was on the mound for a stolen base by Andrus. Just to round out the evening, Burnett threw a wild pitch and nearly heaved a ball over catcher Francisco Cervelli's glove and back to the screen during an intentional walk.
• Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who is always one questionable move away from being roasted by the New York media, fared OK with his decision to start Burnett rather than use Sabathia on three days' rest and throw his entire rotation into turmoil. But Girardi pushed his luck, and Burnett surrendered a three-run homer to Molina in the sixth to give Texas a 5-3 lead and suck the life out of Yankee Stadium.
Girardi probably had a better day than his former Cubs teammate, Ryne Sandberg. But not by much.
"He was still throwing the ball good,'' Girardi said of Burnett. "If you take A.J. out of there and you give up a couple of runs, people say, 'Why did you take A.J. out?' That's the nature of this business when you're a manager.''
Right now the Yankees will pin their hopes on Sabathia, then see if the Rangers get tight when clinching time nears. For what it's worth, Texas is 1-3 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington during the postseason. But history doesn't count for much when a young team is bonding and on the verge of tapping its destiny.
The Rangers enjoyed the Josh Hamilton ginger ale shower celebration thing so much after their division series victory over Tampa Bay, they're ready to celebrate all over again. And the Yankees, who suddenly look old and uninspired, are one loss away from the harshest of realities: Even though they won 95 games during the regular season and blitzed Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs, this just may not be their year.