Yankees get sucker-punched into a crisis

NEW YORK – The Yankees got hit in the mouth. Ran right into it, too.

Laid out, nearly shut out and, all things considered, blown out.

Right in the middle of the Win It for the Boss festivities, the celebration of pending championship No. 27, and the riveting local opinion pieces pointing out Philadelphia's flaws, the New York Yankees fell so flat Wednesday night their game could have been delivered to One East 161st Street in a pizza box.

Cold, of course.

To review, the Yankees won the first two games of the division series in their new ballpark and swept the Minnesota Twins. They won the first two games of the league championship series here and beat the Los Angeles Angels in six.

Now they're a game into the World Series, their ace has pitched, they put the biggest crowd ever in that new ballpark, they whipped up a little mist and put the Boss in his suite and they … lost. Now they're going to play from behind. Now they've lost a playoff game here, and the other team has home-field advantage and the ace who can't be beat and the wind at its back.

Life changes fast.

Jimmy Rollins(notes) called the series in five, maybe six, and he scored two runs. Cliff Lee(notes) was designated as the second-best lefty in Game 1, and he went nine strong. Chase Utley(notes) was slumping and twice he went deep. The Philadelphia Phillies took the train into Penn Station, rolled up their sleeves and proceeded to take it to the 103-win, AL East champion, glide-through-the-playoffs Yanks by a score of 6-1 on Wednesday night.

A sign along the third-base line shouted, “WE'RE BACK.” Not yet they're not. Not like this.

Not until they get through this A.J. Burnett(notes) start Thursday night, and think their way around Pedro Martinez(notes), and then go into Philly and win a game or two, if they're capable. Lee went through them in 122 pitches. They didn't back up a good at-bat with another until the ninth inning, at which point they were down six runs.

As wonderful as Lee was, as confident as he was, he started 16 of the first 27 Yankees with ball one. You know how many Yankees walked? None. How many struck out? Ten.

Alex Rodriguez(notes) looked ahead to another encounter with Lee, maybe even two and said, “There's no doubt we're going to have to figure out a way to beat him.”

Lee was great. And the Yankees were not very good. Their hitters were impatient. Their bullpen, as a whole, was imperfect. Even Sabathia, who ultimately would have to answer for a couple fastballs he couldn't get past Utley, knew better.

“Three walks,” he said, ruing his lack of command. “You know, I was behind everybody. I wish I could stand here and say it was two pitches. … That's not at all how I was pitching in this postseason.”

They'd counted on this one. Then neither Mark Teixeira(notes) nor Rodriguez hit the ball out of the infield. Teixeira, who hasn't hit in the postseason, struck out twice. A-Rod, who's done nothing but hit, struck out three times. The pattern: Fastball, fastball, fastball, changeup away. The bottom third of the Yankees lineup – Robinson Cano(notes), Nick Swisher(notes) and Melky Cabrera(notes) – took the oh-fer. Rollins kicked them a run in the ninth inning, just being nice, like he promised. But that was all.

Meantime, Lee was catching pop-ups like he's the adult in the father-daughter softball game, snaring grounders like he's playing pepper with the boys in Clearwater, and tagging Jorge Posada(notes) with such mirth that he looked for a moment like he might wrestle him to the ground and noogie him, too.

“Yeah,” said Derek Jeter(notes), who had three of the Yankees' six hits, “it's fun when you're pitching like that.”

So, for the first time since they went out a little slow five weeks into the season, since they started ripping off five-game winning streaks and burying their division, the Yankees have a slight crisis on their hands.

For the first time in months, since they started routing the Red Sox and picking off playoff opponents one at a time, they'd lost a game they'd really wanted to win. Sabathia lost for the second time since July. Phil Hughes(notes) couldn't locate his fastball. The Phillies, and not the Yankees, were piling on at the end, grinding the at-bats. And The Stadium, on a cold, wet night, by the end wasn't the place to be.

“The fans,” Utley said, “were pretty rowdy early on in the game, and … near the end of the game I noticed some people left. It was a little bit quieter.”

Jeter nodded.

“Six-nothing,” he said, “does that to you.”

Now we see. They call it a long series, but Lee just shortened it. If he's going to be Beckett, or Schilling, or Morris, he just shortened it a lot.

“They had their way with us,” Johnny Damon(notes) said, more than a little surprised.

Yeah, life changes fast.