Best thing for Yankees fans to remember: It's early

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Fans of the Tampa Bay Rays brings brooms Fans of the Tampa Bay Rays brings brooms as the Rays sweep the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (April 8, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Anthony Rieber Newsday columnist Anthony Rieber

Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998 and in his current position since 2004.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.

Go ahead and panic if you want. It's your right as a Yankees fan.

The Yankees are 0-3. The Mets are 3-0. That stings.

More importantly for the Yankees, the AL East rival Tampa Bay Rays are 3-0 after sweeping them in this weekend's season-opening series.

By now, you probably know the last time the Yankees were 0-3 was in 1998, when they went on to win 125 games, including a World Series sweep.

That's about as relevant as what the dew point was on this date in 1998, but it gives Yankees fans something to cling to before Monday night's series opener in Baltimore against the Orioles. The 3-0 Orioles. What in the name of Boog Powell is going on here?

Well, for one thing, it's really, really early. Ridiculously early.

Nick Swisher, who popped out and struck out in two RBI situations in Sunday's 3-0 loss, channeled his inner Yogi Berra when asked if he was frustrated.

"As frustrating as it is," he said, "it's way too early to get frustrated."

The Yankees did seem psyched out by the Rays' exaggerated defensive shifts. Tampa Bay used three infielders on one side of second base against six of the nine batters in the Yankees' order Sunday, continuing a weekendlong pattern.

The shifts had little impact on Sunday's game, but the Yankees clearly were flummoxed during Saturday's 8-6 loss. Mark Teixeira hit a liner to short right that could have been a two-run single. Instead, it was caught by the deeply stationed second baseman and turned into a double play. Alex Rodriguez hit a rope up the middle that became the final out of that game because a defender was stationed right behind second base.

"That's a defense I've never seen before," Swisher said. "I don't think anybody's seen that before."

The Yankees could try to beat the shift by shooting for the opposite field, but most hitters simply try to ignore it and hit to their strengths. The biggest shift the Yankees can implement the next time they face the Rays is to stop focusing on the strategy as if Tampa Bay is doing something illegal.

(The Yankees used a similar shift against Tampa Bay's Carlos Peña. He went 6-for-12 with two home runs and seven RBIs in the series.)

No, the Yankees are not 0-3 because of the shift or because they hit into hard luck (another lament heard Sunday). They are 0-3 because they had breakdowns in every phase of the game. Here are but a few:

Starting pitching: CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes combined for a 6.06 ERA.

Relief pitching: Mariano Rivera blew the save in the opener Friday. Clay Rapada let Saturday's game get out of hand.

Defense: Eduardo Nuñez committed an error Saturday that led to two runs. Raul Ibañez played a potential run-scoring single into a definite run-scoring triple Sunday.

Managing: Joe Girardi ordered an intentional walk of a light-hitting infielder in the first inning of the first game of the season to get a platoon advantage. Peña followed with a grand slam against Sabathia.

The good news for Yankees fans is there are 159 games left. Chances are they are going to win more than a few of them. But don't bother telling that to your friends who are Mets fans today. It's their day to gloat and your day to fret.

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