The Yankees had never been swept in a season series with the Mets. But then again, they have never fielded a lineup devoid of so many regular players.
The good news is two regulars appear close to returning as Mark Teixeira (forearm) and Kevin Youkilis (back) completed rehab assignments and may return Friday against the Red Sox.
If they do return, they will be coming back to a team which has lost five straight and seven of nine after getting a solo home run from Robinson Cano and little else offensively in a 3-1 loss to the Mets Thursday night.
“[They will be] a big boost,” center fielder Brett Gardner said. “They fit nicely in our lineup and we look forward to getting them back.”
In between a 1-4 start to the season and this current slide, the Yankees went 27-12 with a lineup highlighted by solid performances from veterans Lyle Overbay, Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells. All three have experienced struggles as of late.
“I don’t know if they were playing over their heads,” manager Joe Girardi said of his patchwork lineup “I think they were playing well and I think whenever you’re playing well and you go through a bad streak, you’re always a little bit surprised because you don’t know what necessarily triggers it.”
Wells was 0-for-4 Thursday and has just seven hits in his last 44 at-bats. Hafner also was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts Thursday has one hit in his last 15 at-bats. Overbay was 0-for-3 and went 3-for-14 in the series against the Mets.
The lack of consistent offense for the fourth time in five games meant the Yankees dropped to 17-10 in games decided by two runs or less. Four of those losses have occurred since this slump began May 21 in Baltimore.
The rough night offensively cost Vidal Nuno a chance at a second win before he likely heads back to the minors when Andy Pettitte returns Monday. Nuno allowed a Marlon Byrd home run in the second but just two other hits while pitching six innings.
While the Yankees continued their worst slide of the year, the Mets maintained their best week of the season by winning a season-high fifth straight game. Like the other games against the Yankees, Met pitching continued to perform well.
Dillon Gee followed the leads of Shaun Marcum, Jon Niese and Matt Harvey with an impressive victory. He struck out a career-high 12 hitters in 7 1/3 innings, retiring the final 15 hitters he faced with nine outs coming by strikeout.
Gee pitched more aggressively and during his dominant game-ending run, the Yankees saw first-pitch strikes 11 times.
“That was my mindset,” Gee said. “I went out in the sixth and seventh and [thought] this was my game. We’re going to attack guys. That’s the way I’m going to pitch and I hadn’t been doing it lately.”
It was Gee’s finest performance since July 7, 2012, which was his final start of last season before undergoing surgery to treat a blood clot in his right shoulder. It also came after manager Terry Collins hinted that repeated bad starts might force him to shift Gee to the bullpen when prized prospect Zack Wheeler arrives.
“I talked to Dillon the other day after his last start because he was sailing through and all of a sudden he hit a wall,” Collins said “My question was, ‘How are you feeling?’ and he said, ‘I’m disappointed in the fact that I haven’t been able to be very consistent.’
“Then I asked if he was hurt and if you’re not hurt, it’s got to be something else. There was some frustration and he understood that. I said if a change is going to have to be made, I’m going to have to take you out of the rotation and he said, ‘I don’t blame you.’”
The most revealing stretch from a Yankee standpoint came when Gee struck out the final five hitters he faced on 26 pitches.
“When you look up, he was throwing a lot of strikes,” Girardi said. “His changeup a lot of times looks like a strike. Guys were swinging and they didn’t hit it.”
The dominance by Gee gave the Mets their fourth series sweep against the Yankees while the ineptitude of the Yankee bats gave them five straight losses for the first time since a six-game slide May 11-16, 2011.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.