David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The Yankees, undoubtedly, are sinking. Not sunk yet. But sinking. And by now, they've got to see the water rising at an uncomfortable rate.
There's no other way to describe what's happening in the Bronx, where last night the Yankees suffered their sixth loss in eight games, this time by the score of 7-4 to the Astros, a 53-win team supposedly crossing days off the schedule.
For a sinking team, it's more than just the leaks you can see, the weak spots you anticipate. It's the ones that start popping up where you least expect them, like with David Robertson, who imploded in a way we've rarely seen since he's been pitching for the Yankees, and only one other time this season.
Robertson, called on to hold a 4-4 tie in the ninth inning, failed in spectacular fashion. There were the back-to-back walks, followed by the kind of pitch, a 3-and-0 cutter, that a masher like the Astros' Chris Carter dreams about when his head hits the pillow at night.
And those dreams certainly had an identical script. Robertson knew Carter would be swinging. But Robertson figured that if he threw the pitch down-and-away, maybe, just maybe, he could get Carter to roll over it for a double-play grounder.
That's not where this pitch wound up, however. It was over the middle of the plate, and Carter blasted a no-doubter that had fans streaming for the exits before the ball even reached the seats in left-center.
"I threw it right in his bat-path," Roberston said, "and he put it 30 rows deep. It stinks when 3-and-0 that happens."
The way things are going for the Yankees lately, even if Carter did hit a ground ball, something off the end of the bat, it probably would have found a hole anyway. More and more, you just get the feeling this isn't going to end well, that the Yankees are going to be home in October for a second straight year.
The misfiring offense has crippled this $200-million team all season, but the Yankees should be used to that by now.
The troubling part is what else could go wrong, and seeing Robertson disintegrate so quickly had to be shocking for even the most optimistic person in pinstripes. Before last night, Robertson had not surrendered a home run since June 3, a stretch of 27 games. During that span, he was touched for only four runs, striking out 39 with nine walks.
This wasn't Robertson. Not the one the Yankees have counted on. Not the one that had allowed this bullpen to transition seamlessly from the legendary Mariano Rivera.
"I think he's been really, really good," Joe Girardi said afterward. "I think as good as anyone could have expected. I've talked about the pressure that was on him, who he was replacing, and he's come in and done a marvelous job."
There's no disputing that. Robertson is an MVP candidate for these Yankees, who have become over-reliant on the bullpen. Before Tuesday night, the Yankees had averaged two runs in their previous seven games. That's a microscopic margin of error for a pitching staff. And when someone stumbles, as Robertson did, there's no covering up for the mistake. It's fatal.
"Those bullpen guys have been operating on a pretty thin line," Girardi said. "Tonight we weren't able to get it done."
After Robertson had answered all the questions at his locker, and the TV cameras walked away, he muttered a variation of "I stunk" to himself as he headed for the exit.
But Robertson shouldn't pin this one entirely on himself. He may have delivered the deciding pitch, but there's plenty of blame to go around on these Yankees for their predicament.