SEATTLE - The Yankees talked most of the winter about their bullpen and its ability to shorten the game.
But on a night when they really needed it, the bullpen came up short Friday night.
Although he was wild and lasted only five innings, A.J. Burnett did a good job of limiting the damage and turned a one-run lead over to his relievers. But Boone Logan and Luis Ayala quickly tossed it away, leading to a 4-3 loss to the Mariners at Safeco Field to kick off the Yankees' nine-game West Coast trip.
An 0-2 start to the trip looks quite possible as Felix Hernandez, 4-0 with a 0.51 ERA in his last four starts against the Yankees, will face Ivan Nova Saturday night.
"Every one of them has an important job,'' Joe Girardi said of his relievers. "No matter when you pitch, it's important, outs are important. And we're going to need every one of them to contribute.''
The Yankees (27-22), who went ahead 3-0 in the top of the fifth, fell a game behind the Red Sox (29-22), who took over sole possession of first place for the first time this season after beginning 0-6 and 2-10.
The Yankees still led 3-2 going into the bottom of the sixth. With Burnett at 97 pitches and having allowed his first two runs of the game in the fifth, Girardi brought in lefthander Logan to face lefthanded-hitting Adam Kennedy, who had singled off Burnett in the fourth.
"It's different if he gives up the two runs early,'' Girardi said of possibly leaving Burnett in. "He gave up the two runs, he got a pitch up to Brendan Ryan, he got a pitch up to Ichiro. It's a little bit different.''
Kennedy singled to center off Logan, making lefthanded hitters 11-for-32 against Logan this season. In came Ayala (1-1), who promptly gave up a single to Miguel Olivo and a walk to Carlos Peguero to load the bases.
Grounders by Ryan and Ichiro brought in the runners, giving the Mariners, who have won nine of their last 11 to get back to .500 at 25-25, a 4-3 lead.
The Mariners' bullpen did its job, shutting out the Yankees in the final four innings. David Pauley (3-0) took over for 6-7, 260-pound rookie phenom Michael Piñeda, who came in having thrown 14 consecutive scoreless innings, and pitched the sixth and seventh without issue. Jamey Wright pitched a scoreless eighth and Brandon League earned his 13th save with a perfect ninth.
The Yankees were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left seven on base.
Wright got a break when he picked off Eduardo Nuñez, who had pinch run for Jorge Posada and stolen second. "You just can't get picked there,'' Girardi said of Nuñez.
Nuñez's arm stuck as he dived back -- replays showed he might have been safe anyway -- but he didn't make any excuses.
"I feel bad. It's a big play in the inning,'' Nuñez said. "Tying run at second base. I felt bad.''
Burnett, who took the mound in the fifth with a 3-0 lead, wound up allowing two runs and four hits and tying a season high with five walks. He said he could have gone out for the sixth but didn't argue with his manager.
"A lot of walks, and I'm sure the 97 pitches had a lot to do with it,'' Burnett said.
Burnett walked two in each of the first two innings but escaped without allowing any runs. He had a fairly good changeup and curveball, but the command of his fastball never came.
"It was a grind for five,'' Burnett said.
Piñeda's scoreless streak lasted until the game's third batter. Mark Teixeira hit his fifth home run in his last eight games and 14th overall, crushing Piñeda's 3-and-2 pitch, a 96-mph just-above-the-belt fastball, down the rightfield line.
Nick Swisher, who came into the game in an 0-for-15 slide, nearly made it 2-0 in the fourth. He hit a rocket to deep centerfield, but Franklin Gutierrez coasted back, leaped and caught it at the wall, appearing to take away a home run.
"I thought that ball was five rows deep, no doubt,'' Swisher said. "Then Michael Jordan came over there and robbed me.''
The Mariners finally got on the board in the bottom of the inning. Ryan started the inning with a single to right and Ichiro slapped an opposite-field double down the leftfield line, putting runners at second and third with none out. Luis Rodriguez followed with a ground smash off Burnett's leg, but an alert Robinson Cano was able to get Rodriguez at first for an out. Cano made another fine play to get Justin Smoak on his chopper, flipping the ball out of his glove to Teixeira. Ichiro scored on the play, cutting the Yankees' lead to 3-2.
"It's tough any time you lose a game when you feel like you've got a chance to win,'' Girardi said. "But you have to bounce back.''