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Yankees won’t find it easy to dig out of hole

Times Staff Writer

The New York Yankees have inspired plenty of breathless tabloid headlines since 1995 on the way to 13 consecutive playoff appearances.

They provided fodder for several more Sunday at Angel Stadium, albeit of a different variety. Among the possibilities:

How sweep it is. New York’s 4-3 loss completed the Angels’ first sweep of the Yankees in Anaheim since May 23-25, 1995 -- closer Mariano Rivera’s rookie season.

Balk to me. Pitcher Andy Pettitte contributed to the Angels’ three-run third inning with a bizarre balk in which a miscommunication prompted him to try to pick off a runner at first base even though second base was occupied.

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The lost boys. Robinson Cano and Wilson Betemit looked bewildered on the game’s final play, when a ninth-inning dribbler off the bat of Chone Figgins split the infielders to drive in Howie Kendrick with the winning run.

It wasn’t exactly a banner series for the Yankees or their bullpen, which yielded four runs in the seventh inning Friday, eight runs in the eighth inning Saturday and one particularly painful run in the ninth inning Sunday. New York’s hitters were equally abominable Sunday, going 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position after the first four hitters of the game reached base.

Third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who was thrown out attempting to steal third base with the score tied in the eighth inning, called it “a devastating series for us” and acknowledged that the Yankees were running out of time in their quest to extend their streak of playoff appearances.

New York’s fifth loss in seven games put them closer to last place than first in the American League East, where they are 8 1/2 games behind division leader Tampa Bay. The Yankees also trail Boston by four games in the wild-card race.

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“We’re starting to put ourselves in a bad situation and we just have to figure out a way to win,” Pettitte said.

Pettitte contributed to the mess Sunday during a third-inning gaffe sure to make the blooper reels. With runners on first and second and nobody out, first baseman Richie Sexson edged up the line to guard against a possible bunt by the speedy Erick Aybar.

As Sexson turned toward the plate, Pettitte made a throw toward the first baseman that caught him off guard and nailed him in the leg, allowing the baserunners to advance to second and third.

“That was my screw-up,” Pettitte said. “I thought we had a pickoff play going with Richie and there was a serious miscommunication there. He was actually talking to Alex, and Alex was probably standing right behind me at third base. It screwed up the inning big-time.”

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There was another kind of mishap in the eighth when Rodriguez doubled to left-center field with one out and then attempted to steal third. Though third base umpire Bill Welke called Rodriguez out, replays showed Rodriguez beat the throw from Angels catcher Mike Napoli.

“I stole the base,” Rodriguez said. “I was safe.”

It was that kind of day -- and series -- for the Yankees, who were even more incredulous in the ninth when Figgins’ bouncer squirted past second baseman Cano and first baseman Betemit, who had retreated to cover the bag.

“I thought it was going to be an out,” said Rivera, whose afternoon was finished after his first and only pitch to Figgins. “I definitely thought it was a routine ball.”

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Instead, it was just another strange play in a strange time for the Yankees.

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ben.bolch@latimes.com


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