NEW YORK — Tuesday's umpiring controversy was nothing compared to the mess Yankees manager Joe Girardi created.
Already questioned and criticized for starting struggling A.J. Burnett in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series, Girardi compounded the problem by leaving Burnett in too long. Combined with another night of listless offense and an apparently serious injury to Mark Teixeira, the Yankees left themselves in a precarious position.
With the 10-3 loss to Texas, the Yankees now need to win Game 5 this afternoon, then two more in Texas — including a potential Game 7 showdown with Cliff Lee — to avoid joining the division champ Rays on the October outs.
So much for the beasts of the East, huh?
"At this point," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said, "they've been a lot better than us."
The umpiring controversy came early, with questionable calls — one of which was reversed via replay — on a pair of balls hit over the rightfield wall in the second inning. The pain came later as Teixeira, the Yankees' No. 3 hitter and first baseman, had to be helped off the field after straining his right hamstring running out a fifth-inning ground ball and, Girardi said, "barring some miracle" is done for the postseason, with Eduardo Nunez to replace him.
The Yankees would have — and should have — been happy with Burnett, pitching for the first time in 17 days, getting them through five innings with a lead.
But Girardi wanted more — he mentioned six or seven innings — and sent him out for the sixth, after 99 pitches, to protect the 3-2 advantage, and that didn't work out too well.
"He was still throwing the ball good,'' Girardi said. "You know, if you take A.J. out there and you give up a couple runs, people say why did you take A.J. out. That's the nature of this business when you're a manager. If things go right, they say, well, you did the right thing. If things go wrong, they say, well, you made the mistake. But he was throwing the ball good. It was hard to argue with the way he was throwing the baseball.''
After a leadoff single and a fielder's choice grounder, Girardi made another decision that turned out to be a mistake, having Burnett intentionally walk David Murphy with one out — putting the go-ahead run on — and bringing No. 8-hitting catcher Bengie Molina to the plate. And just as the Rays found out in the division series — that means trouble. Molina — hitting .385 (10-for-25) for the postseason — crushed Burnett's first pitch over the leftfield wall to give the Rangers a 5-3 lead.
"We liked that matchup,'' Girardi said. "It just didn't work out.''
Burnett said he was ready to face Murphy, but it was Girardi's decision.
"If I make that pitch, you don't have to ask that question,'' Burnett said. "It was an aggressive mistake. I'm not angry at all. I gave what I had out there tonight. Everything.''
The Rangers added five more off the Yankees' beleaguered bullpen, emptying Yankee Stadium early — well, relatively early since it was a 4:05 game — for the second straight night, as Josh Hamilton hit a pair of homers — giving him four for the series — and Nelson Cruz a two-run shot in the ninth.
The win leaves the Rangers one win shy of the first World Series appearance in franchise history.
"We're not thinking how we're going to close anyone out,'' Texas manager Ron Washington said. "We're coming to the ballpark to play baseball.''
And the Yankees are one win from going home without that 28th championship, though confident because they will have CC Sabathia on the mound.
"I believe in this team," Girardi said. "We have bounced back many times this year."
The first of the two questionable calls came on Robinson Cano's one out home run, which landed on the ledge atop the rightfield wall. Rightfielder Cruz immediately indicated that there was fan interference as he tried to make a leaping catch, and TV replays showed that a fan or two brushed Cruz's glove.
But rightfield umpire Jim Reynolds felt it did not impact the outcome, and the crew — curiously — declined to even review the play. Reynolds said he was "very confident that the ball was in the stands," and crew chief Gerry Davis said replays confirmed it.
Reynolds made another call two batters later — ruling an arching down the line by Lance Berkman to be a home run even though it appeared to clearly be outside the foul pole — that his colleagues were quick to review, and reverse. Reynolds admitted he "wasn't confident" of his original call. It was the second time a call has been reversed in postseason play.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.