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Good Afternoon

Red Sox didn't help; can Rays wake Yanks?

Johnny Damon #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays

Johnny Damon #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates with Ben Zobrist #18 and B.J. Upton #2 after hitting a home run in the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles. (May 6, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

Well, the rival Red Sox couldn't awaken the Yankees from their slumber. Neither could an internal drama starring Jorge Posada, Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman that went from explosion to resolution in a tidy 24 hours.

The American League East-leading Rays, anyone?

"It seems like when things are going badly, they're going badly," Girardi said after the Yankees' 7-5 loss to Boston last night at Yankee Stadium. "It's going to turn around."

It probably will. The Yankees possess too much talent, primarily on offense, to keep extending a losing streak that stands at five games. Shoot, on this night, they managed four runs in six innings against Boston ace Jon Lester.

Yet such reassurances carry zero weight when a team is in the middle of one of these meltdowns. Right now, the Yankees simply aren't playing good baseball. On this night, when they lost by two runs, they allowed the Red Sox to score two unearned runs, the latter on Alex Rodriguez's error. He let Kevin Youkilis' seventh-inning grounder roll through his legs, evoking Bill Buckner's infamous 1986 World Series miscue.

The Yankees are pushing the spin that the Rays and Red Sox both endured tough starts before rebounding. "Now we're going through it," Girardi said.

It might very well turn out to be a reasoned, accurate take. At the moment, however, the Yankees look like an aging, lumbering team dealing with its own mortality. Consider that the game's biggest buzz came from the return of Posada, who generated huge headlines Saturday by taking himself out of the lineup after being dropped to ninth.

Posada woke up Sunday realizing his grave mistake and issued the proper apologies, and the Yankees announced they won't impose any discipline on their iconic player. Then the Bleacher Creatures included Posada during their first-inning roll call, and when Posada pinch hit to lead off the eighth inning, the crowd delivered a standing ovation.

A healthy chunk of that crowd departed, however, after the Yankees couldn't do anything with Posada's leadoff walk. By the time A-Rod grounded out to Youkilis for the game's final out, the place felt as electric as a Blockbuster Video store in 2011.

There was no time for self-pity. The Yankees departed the ballpark for a plane to Tampa Bay, where they'll face the youthful, successful Rays and stud pitchers David Price (Monday night) and James Shields (Tuesday night). They might do so without Rafael Soriano, the high-maintenance setup man who is battling a right elbow problem. The Yankees signed Soriano away from the Rays, who gladly took the Yankees' first-round draft pick in return.

Soriano came to the Yankees courtesy of a call by Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, who overruled Cashman. Posada, A-Rod and Derek Jeter likewise benefited from the generosity of Steinbrenner, who -- for all of his good intentions -- seems to be overly ruled by sentiment and public relations.

It certainly feels as though Posada won't be the last high-profile headache in the years to come as the Yankees deal with aging, beloved players.

"I'm managing some Yankees that have had wonderful careers that are aging in front of us, just like all of us have," Girardi said before the game. "And there's no manual on it."

It's a little easier from the front-office vantage point: Pay players for what you think they can do rather than what they've done.

Such a strategy wouldn't ensure the avoidance of slumps like the Yankees' current mess. But it would make them less painful to endure.

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