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TIMORE -- On some nights, these New York Yankees look like noble inheritors of a triumphant tradition. They are poised, proficient, professional, superb in the clutch -- everything you think of as the best of the Yankees.
And then on other nights, they look old and average.
Monday's 3-2 loss came on one of those nights in the second category. Unfortunately, it was also Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees had a chance here to take complete command of this series, with a 2-0 lead over the young Orioles. But they weren't quite up to it.
Which of these teams is the real 2012 Yankees? They both are.
The Yankees were good enough to win the AL East, again, and to produce the best record in the AL. Happy home-field advantage. The question becomes, how much is left for October? This was once traditionally the time of year owned by the Yankees, but in the last 12 seasons, they have won just one World Series.
After a terrific start by CC Sabathia and a five-run ninth inning touched off by Russell Martin's homer in Sunday night's series-opening 7-2 win, the Yankees looked like the Yankees were supposed to look at this time of the year. They were capable, they were clutch, they were compelling.
And in Game 2, they had Andy Pettitte, the all-time leader in postseason victories, going against Wei-Yin Chen. Chen, a Taiwanese left-hander who made his name pitching professionally in Japan, had a nice season as a Major League rookie. But in the last of his four starts against the Yankees this season, he gave up seven runs in 4 2/3 innings.
You did not have to be a riverboat gambler to like the Yankees' chances in this one, and Pettitte pitched well enough to win. In fact, that sells him a little short. He pitched well enough to become the first man ever to win 20 postseason games. But he didn't win that 20th game, because Chen, practically a stationary target the last time he faced the Yanks, pitched just a bit better, allowing two runs (one earned) over 6 1/3 innings.
So the Orioles emerged with a new lease on postseason life and a tied series. It is true that the remainder of this series will be played at Yankee Stadium, but the Orioles have spent six months surprising people. They give no indication of being intimidated or awed or even particularly impressed by their postseason circumstances.
The Yankees, in turn -- after appearing to be invincible on Sunday night -- were in trouble on Monday night.
Oh, there is another grounder in the hole that another shortstop puts in his pocket, but Derek Jeter can no longer get to it.
Mark Teixeira, in the wake of his left calf strain, expends so much energy for so little yardage gained that merely watching him run is a painful experience.
Alex Rodriguez cannot fairly be called a shadow of his former self, because even the shadow is not consistently visible.
The Yankees, at too many times this season, have struggled to find timely hitting. Monday night was no exception, as they stranded 10 runners and went 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Manager Joe Girardi maintains that, before the season ends badly or sadly, the Yankees will hit in these crucial situations. He is not, the manager stated, worried about this issue.
"No, I believe these guys are going to come through," Girardi said. "I believe they're going to put up good at-bats and they're going to break through. I believe in them."
At the end of Monday night's game, the Yankees were left with the hope that Baltimore's closer, Jim Johnson, would implode for the second time in as many games. But the guy led the Majors in saves this year with 51. Placed in a one-run save situation, he buzzed through Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki and Rodriguez without a moment's difficulty and the Orioles were back in postseason business. If you combine the ages of these three players at the top of the Yankees' lineup, then subtract that number from the current year, you find yourself all the way back into the 19th century.
In two nights' time, the Yankees have covered the gamut from terrific, just splendid, right on time, to inadequate. On successive evenings, you could look at these Bronx Bombers and say, "They can't be beaten," followed by, "They can't possibly win like this."
With the Yankees, I still lean toward the former, more optimistic view. I know, this may simply be a habit of history. But right now, all they need to do is win two out of three at home against a team that hasn't been at this level in 16 years. If there is still enough of the Yankees actually remaining in these Yankees, this gets done.