That object in the Yankees' rearview mirror keeps getting closer and closer -- and it might zip right past them if this keeps up.
They can talk about how they're still in control and how things could change when Alex Rodriguez returns to the lineup, possibly as soon as Monday against the Rays. But the Yankees are sliding, and their tenuous grip on the AL East lead sits at only two games over the Orioles after Sunday's 8-3 loss to Baltimore at the Stadium before 46,501.
Phil Hughes was roughed up in five-plus innings, allowing a pair of home runs to Mark Reynolds, and the Yankees managed only six hits, giving them 15 hits and a .167 batting average in the three-game series.
The Yankees took 2-0 and 3-1 leads before Reynolds hit a three-run shot to cap a four-run sixth inning that gave the Orioles a 5-3 lead.
Since July 18, when they led the Orioles by 10 games and the Rays by 101/2 games, the Yankees have gone 19-23 to the Orioles' 27-15 and the Rays' 26-16.
"It's baseball. That's how it's going to go," Nick Swisher said. "All I hear is concern this, concern that. Nobody is concerned in here, guys. Two games up in the beginning of September? If you told me in spring training that, I'd buy into that. So there's no concern over here. We're not disappointed. We do know we need to play better."
"Let me tell you something, man," Derek Jeter said. "Every team in our division wishes they were in the position we are in now. We have to worry about ourselves, not anyone else. Teams go through ups and downs. We've had more ups than we've had downs this year. So we haven't been playing well as of late, but that can all turn around with a nice little stretch."
The Yankees sure looked like a team that's dropped eight of the last 12 (and hit .218 in that span). They couldn't do much against journeyman lefthander Randy Wolf (4-10), who entered the game in the fourth after righthander Chris Tillman left with elbow stiffness.
Called up with the Triple-A reinforcements Saturday when the rosters expanded, Dickerson lined a bullet of a two-run homer into the second deck in rightfield in the second -- his first 2012 hit for the Yankees -- and scored on Swisher's two-out RBI single in the fifth, giving the Yankees a 3-1 lead.
Dickerson also made two spectacular catches. With two outs in the seventh, he leaped at the wall in right-center and robbed Adam Jones of a two-run homer off Joba Chamberlain. Earlier, he made a running catch in deep left-center, holding on after the ball nearly squirted out of his glove.
"Most of that cancels out," Dickerson said. "It doesn't matter how great of a game you had. You still lost. There's that old saying, it doesn't matter how well you did; when your team loses, you're still a loser."
Not even Dickerson's unexpected performance could save the Yankees from ending their six-game homestand 2-4. The Orioles took all three series at Yankee Stadium this year, the first time since 1976 that they won all three series at the Stadium. They are 6-3 against the Yankees in the Bronx and 1-4 against them at Camden Yards this season.
Dickerson's drive off Tillman gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead in the second and Swisher's single off Wolf made it 3-1 in the fifth. But Hughes fell apart in the sixth, walking Nate McLouth and allowing line-drive singles by Jones and Matt Wieters and a three-run homer by Reynolds in a six-pitch span as the Orioles went ahead 5-3.
"It's pretty simple," Jeter said. "We are not doing a lot of things. Pitching, hitting, everything. That's the bottom line, but it happens to every team, every year at some point in the season. We've had periods where we've played well, we've had periods where we've played poorly. Right now, we've been playing poorly and hopefully, we can turn it around starting tomorrow."
With seven games against the Rays and Orioles this week, they're going to have to get it together quickly. Or else.
"We need to play better baseball," a clearly agitated Girardi said. "I'm asked every day what my level of concern is. The concern is that you play better baseball, not where you are in the standings right now, because we are still in control of our own destination. The concern is we need to play better."