David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The last time the Yankees held a full-fledged, doors-closed, right-the-ship team meeting was back on May 22. They stood at .500 after six losses in seven games, including three straight, and that was enough for Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman to stage a clubhouse intervention.
It's time for another one.
With the relentless Orioles up next this weekend, and the division lead looking flimsier than ever, the Yankees can no longer expect their championship pedigree to kick in like some fast-acting cold medicine.
As badly as they wanted to mentally erase yesterday's 8-5 loss to the Blue Jays as if it never happened, this was a manifestation of what has been troubling this team for a while now, especially the part about stranding runners in scoring position. After dropping six of nine, the Yankees finally are starting to look like a team feeling the effects of its injuries.
"It's almost like you can't do anything about it, man," Nick Swisher said. "We just got to put it behind us. We just got to keep going out there and plugging along. No excuses. We've got to find a way to win games -- that's it."
Missing players is one thing. The Yankees have been dealing with the absence of Alex Rodriguez for more than a month, and losing Mark Teixeira didn't help. But they can't kick the ball around for three errors as the Yankees did Wednesday -- or have the immobile Andruw Jones flopping in the outfield on balls that otherwise may have been caught.
"We didn't play well," Girardi said. "That's the bottom line."
Aside from that "Falling Down" moment in the bowels of U.S. Cellular Field last week, when Girardi broke away from a group interview to loudly chastise a heckling fan, the manager usually does a good job concealing his frustration. Girardi was unable to hide it Wednesday based on the tone of his answers afterward, however, after witnessing one of the worst three-hour displays of baseball by his team this season.
CC Sabathia, as always, stood at his locker and took full responsibility for what transpired. But he didn't deserve all the blame. While it's true Sabathia failed to hold leads of 2-0 and 4-3, only two of the five runs he allowed were earned.
Sabathia labored through seven innings -- a little short of the length the tired bullpen needed -- and yet struck out eight without a walk. It gnawed at him that he wasn't able to put away a few of the Blue Jays in key spots. They scored three runs in the third inning with two outs and Yunel Escobar made Sabathia look mortal by taking him deep for a two-run homer in the sixth.
"I feel like this game is all my fault," Sabathia said. "We haven't been playing well and honestly it starts with me, pitching better and giving us a chance to win. I didn't do that."
Sabathia understands that's part of the job description for a $161-million ace, but Girardi seemed too willing to lay this one at his pitcher's feet. Maybe it's because of how badly the manager wanted Sabathia to bail the Yankees out. With the back end of his bullpen spent, Girardi was hoping Sabathia would serve as a bridge to today's off day. On this rare occasion, he failed.
"What did we score today" Five?" Girardi said. "Most days with CC on the mound, that's going to get it done. But for whatever reason, it didn't today."
Girardi knows the reasons. They showed up in every phase of the game in losing this series to the Blue Jays. Recently, his team hasn't looked like one primed to repeat as AL East champions. And there are two other clubs hungry to evict them from the top spot after 78 straight days in the penthouse.
The Yankees, it seems, have been winning games almost by accident lately. This year, they won't claim another division title that way. And if someone doesn't step up and remind them of that fact soon, the Orioles and Rays will.