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2010 alcs

The Yankees Are in Serious Trouble, Folks

Has Yankee Stadium ever been quieter than it has been the last two nights? We don't mean that as a criticism of the fans, or the team, or even the stadium itself. We say it simply as a bewildered observer: The place has been in stunned silence for about fifteen of the eighteen innings. There is something about the silence of a home stadium that is watching its team lose that is so much quieter than a home stadium that is entirely empty. At 10:34 Tuesday night, Bengie Molina — four years to the day his little brother similarly silenced a New York crowd — hit a three-run home run off A.J. Burnett with two out in the top of the sixth inning. After that, the only sounds were sarcastic claps and boos. It all fell apart tonight. Yesterday, Cliff Lee carved up the Yankees like a master surgeon. Tonight, the Yankees went at themselves with an ax.

The Yankees lost 10-3 to fall into a 3-1 hole in the series, and it felt even worse than that score. The whole night was strange; the needle jumped off the groove early and never quite straightened itself out. We had that crazy second inning, in which the right-field umpire had the good fortune of having access to replay on the call he blew and not having it on the one he didn't. We had the endless, endless bottom of the fourth inning, in which the Yankees scored a go-ahead run in the amount of time it takes for a elephant to be born, mate, and die. (The inning was less exciting too.) We had the poor bastard who might have interfered with Brett Gardner on a pop-up down the first-base line in the fifth inning, whose name we'll never end up knowing because Josh Hamilton didn't hit a three-run homer on the next pitch. And, of course, we had this guy. If you'd like to see that guy in glorious motion, try this one.

But in spite of all that, if the Yankees lose this series, this night will be remembered as the night that Joe Girardi lost the city. Girardi has made some poor decisions in the postseason over the last couple of years, but they've mostly been of the LaRussa-ian overmanaging variety, and nothing particularly harmful. But in the sixth inning, the walls collapsed on him. With one out and a runner on first in the sixth inning with the Yankees leading 3-2, Ian Kinsler hit a long fly ball off Burnett that was caught on the warning track by Curtis Granderson. Alertly, Nelson Cruz, the runner on first, tagged up and reached second base.

Now, at this point, Girardi had several decisions to make. First, does he keep Burnett in? At that point, Burnett had thrown about 93 pitches, so he had a little left, but on the other hand, he'd thrown five and two-thirds innings and only given up two runs. Considering the Yankees were being openly mocked coming into the game for starting Burnett, shoot, five and two-thirds with two runs, that's pretty darned good, right? That's found money. Who wouldn't take that? It's A.J. Burnett: You cheated God, Joe! But whichever: Girardi trusted his man, it's not exactly Grady Little–level negligence.The strange move was the next one: intentionally walking David Murphy because of the suddenly open base. Sure, Molina's not exactly Josh Hamilton (who hit two more damn homers tonight, by the way), but with a one-run lead, Girardi put an extra man on base because ... he wanted a force out? (It didn't help that, according to Buster Olney, Girardi looked indecisive and conflicted the entire time.) Then he left Burnett in after the intentional walk — including one pitch that nearly got past Francisco Cervelli — and watched as Burnett's first pitch was hammered by Molina, winding just inside the left-field foul pole. That's when everything got silent. Until the booing came ... when everybody saw Girardi come out to relieve Boone Logan (whose sole purpose on the roster was to get out Hamilton, who's currently two-for-two against him with a homer and a double). Girardi was showered with boos — like, Carl Pavano–level boos. That won't be forgotten. If you saw him talk after the game, he acted like he knows it, too.

For our money, his decision not to pinch-hit for Lance Berkman — who hits so poorly against lefties he probably shouldn't even bother being a pinch hitter — with Austin Kearns when the bases were loaded in the bottom of the eighth was even more inexplicable. (Joe Sheehan, whom you really must follow on Twitter, was the first to scream this, in real time.) But the intentional walk is how this one will go down in history.

By the ninth inning, it didn't matter, though: The Yankees, in their own stadium the last two nights, have been outscored 14-0 from the sixth inning on. Oh, oh, with everything else going on, we totally forgot to mention that Mark Teixeira got hurt. Yeah: We know, right? He strained his hamstring trying to run out a grounder in the fifth inning, and the Yanks certainly missed him: His replacement, Marcus Thames, struck out in his only plate appearance, against a right-hander, and he was unavailable when Berkman was befuddled against a left-hander. Teixeira will have an MRI tomorrow morning, which isn't ideal, but it's really not ideal when the Yankees are supposed to play at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, which they are.

(Update: Teixeira's officially out for the rest of the postseason. By that, we mean "Game Five.")

Listen: This is obviously the worst-case scenario. Forget Cliff Lee; the Yankees will have to be extremely fortunate — and show a fortitude they haven't shown this series — just to be so lucky to see Lee again. It is frighteningly possible that the Yankees season could be over by 7:30 Wednesday night. The Yankees have CC Sabathia on Wednesday afternoon against C.J. Wilson, a pitching match-up that favors them. They have another one on Friday night that favors them, if less so. They can get there. Three wins is not four. There is no clock in baseball. This doesn't have to be over just yet. But boy: It sure does feel over, don't it? Truthfully: It's felt over for a while.

Oh, and one note to end here: The inevitable consequence of billion-dollar cathedrals of luxury boxes is a wealthier, more corporate, less engaged fan. It happens. We get it. But it was astounding, and deeply depressing, to see the massive number of empty seats at Yankee Stadium in the seventh inning tonight. (In the ninth inning, down by seven runs, we suppose we understand.) It was a long game, on a Tuesday night, and everybody's gotta go to work Wednesday, all understood. But considering how many amazing October nights the Yankees have given their fans over the last fifteen years, and considering the tying run was at the plate in the eighth inning, it must have been harrowing for Yankees brass to see so many fans head for the gates. We don't want to see anyone mocking Los Angeles sports fans anymore. The new Yankee Stadium has turned Yankees postseason crowds into something we don't recognize, and don't want to.

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Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images