NEW YORK -- At one point during his press conference late Monday night, after Cliff Lee had absolutely dominated and the Yankees lost to the Rangers, 8-0, Joe Girardi said this:
"I don't think we are in trouble."
He said it calmly, coolly and without much anger or irritation, and the truth is that it was certainly what you would expect the manager of the Yankees to say. But was it true?
Here are the facts of the case:
1. The Yankees are now down, 2-1, in the best-of-seven ALCS with the Rangers.
2. They have A.J. Burnett, who lost seven of his last eight decisions and last won a game on Sept. 1, taking the ball in Tuesday's Game 4.
3. In three games, they have scored a grand total of two runs with a Rangers starting pitcher on the mound.
If that isn't trouble, what is?
This isn't to say that the Yankees can't come back and win the series, can't find their way back to the World Series and keep their repeat hopes alive. They can. But to think they are not in trouble is naïve.
For the last month of the season, everyone talked about how the Yankees wanted to avoid the Rangers in the first round because they didn't want to have to face Lee in a five-game series where he could pitch twice. Of course, after splitting the first two games in Texas, that is exactly what the Yankees ended up getting - a best-of-five that started Monday, when Lee won the first game.
Now, unless the Yankees somehow reel off three straight wins, Lee looms again in a potential Game 7 - a prospect that is particularly unappealing since the lefthander struck out 13 over eight superb innings in Game 3. Josh Hamilton hit a two-run home run in the first inning and the fact that the Rangers blew the game open late against the Yankees bullpen was almost irrelevant; the two-run lead was more than enough.
"It's tough to be any better," Mark Teixeira said afterward. "If he's any better, it's a perfect game."
It nearly was anyway. That's how good Lee was on Monday. He really was perfect through three innings, then gave up a two-out walk to Teixeira in the fourth. Jorge Posada broke up the no-hitter in the fifth, but it wasn't until the sixth that the Yankees even got a runner as far as second base when Brett Gardner singled and then stole second.
It was the closest the Yankees got to a threat all night. The crowd swelled, the Yankees leaned on the rail of the dugout and - as he'd done all night - Lee won, getting two straight groundouts to leave Gardner stranded at third.
"I've felt good for a while," Lee said. "I've felt good all season. I've felt good every start in the postseason. I felt good every time."
The Yankees, on the other hand, don't. They can't. Save for a five-run outburst against the Rangers relievers in Game 1, they have been outplayed by the Rangers the entire series. If not for that one Texas meltdown, the Yankees would be down 3-0 in the series and on the verge of being swept.
As it is, they are sending Burnett to the mound on Tuesday and hoping that he will rediscover something close to the magic he showed last postseason but struggled to find at all this year.
There had been speculation all week that Girardi might opt to go with CC Sabathia on short rest in Game 4 but the Yankees have been firm in their convictions that this series calls for a four-man rotation. Asked after the game Monday if he might use Sabathia, Girardi answered tersely, "no."
"I feel like I'm where I need to be," Burnett said earlier Monday. "It's been a long time since I've been on the mound, but ... I'm sharp and I expect things to go as 'normal A.J.'"
The Yankees can only hope, though they'll need to give Burnett some run support to have any chance. Despite scoring the most runs of any team in the Majors during the regular season, the Yankees offense has struggled to capitalize on the scoring opportunities it creates. Since that five-run eighth inning in Game 1, the Yankees hitters are 1-for-20 with runners in scoring position.
Teixeira is hitless in 11 at-bats; Derek Jeter is 3-for-13; Alex Rodriguez is 2-for-13.
"We haven't swung the bats great," Girardi said. "But I still believe that we are going to hit and that we have a good offense and tomorrow's a new day."
It was typical Girardi, typical positive talk. He says the Yankees aren't in trouble. Says it isn't that bad.
Do you believe him?