With the Yankees' loss and a stunning Red Sox comeback at Fenway Park, the Yankees dropped to eight games behind first-place Boston in the American League East. The latest challenge comes at a time when 16 of the team's next 22 games will be played on the road.
"I think this next month is really important," said center fielder Johnny Damon. "We know we get Rocket back in three weeks, but when we get him back, we need to be within five [games]. We can't keep losing ground."
Numerous members of the Yankees' roster pledged to wield pink bats on Sunday in honor of Mother's Day and breast cancer awareness, but many switched to more familiar lumber following their first plate appearance.
Perhaps that was because Seattle left-hander Horacio Ramirez seemed to have no problem whittling through his initial turn, retiring the first 10 batters before offering a fourth-inning walk to Bobby Abreu.
Ramirez did not allow a hit until Alex Rodriguez's single in that inning, and he limited New York to a run and five hits over 6 1/3 innings.
Meanwhile, the Mariners opened with third-inning scoring against Pettitte, who was searching for his first consecutive victories of the season. More important in Pettitte's mind was securing the Yankees' second victory of the Seattle weekend, a mission that ultimately went unattended.
"When you don't win series, it's frustrating," Pettitte said. "This was a game that we feel like probably we could have won."
Ichiro Suzuki led off the third inning with a single and moved to third base when Rodriguez committed a throwing error on Jose Vidro's grounder, firing the throw high out of the reach of first baseman Josh Phelps. Suzuki came home on a Raul Ibanez single.
Seattle extended the advantage with another run in the fourth inning. Jose Guillen led off with a double and, after a walk, moved to third base on a bunt single by Yuniesky Betancourt, loading the bases. Jose Lopez smacked a sacrifice fly to left field, but Pettitte induced a fielder's choice and a groundout to escape further damage.
"I made a few mistakes that fourth inning, on some balls I left in the middle of the plate," Pettitte said. "It cost me the game."
Pettitte worked 7 1/3 innings, allowing two runs and nine hits. He walked one and struck out two before yielding to reliever Brian Bruney in the eighth inning, but he again left on the hard-luck side, despite gritty escape work that prevented the game from getting out of hand.
"Andy, I give him a lot of credit -- he minimized damage," Torre said. "You come away bases loaded, nobody out and give up only one more run [in the fourth inning]. We had everything going in our direction, basically."
The Yankees cut the deficit to one run in the sixth inning, breaking through against Ramirez. Damon stole second after a one-out single and came home to score on Derek Jeter's two-out hit to left.
It was in those late innings that Damon said he glanced up at the scoreboard at Safeco Field, catching sight of the final score posted from Boston. A six-run rally had lifted the Red Sox to a 6-5 victory, and Damon's first inclination was to wonder if it had been a typographical error.
Damon's second reaction, he said, was to marvel and wonder about the Yankees' current standing.
"Granted, if the Red Sox keep playing the way they are, no one's going to catch them," Damon said.
Further opportunities would be presented for New York, but the Mariners' hard-throwing bullpen seemed able to flush out the chances.
The Yankees had two on and one out in the seventh inning, but Chris Reitsma got pinch-hitter Doug Mientkiewicz to chop into an inning-ending double play; one inning later, with the go-ahead run on first base, Brandon Morrow reared back and blew a fastball by Rodriguez to end the inning.
"Those guys come in throwing that kind of stuff from the bullpen, you're just hoping you can sneak a run or two by," Rodriguez said. "That's the moment you want to be in. He came right after me. Give him credit."
Even against closer J.J. Putz in the ninth, the Yankees put up a fight, as Hideki Matsui ripped a one-out double to the gap in right-center field. But Putz bore down and struck out both Posada and Mientkiewicz to end the game, sending the Yankees to their seventh loss in nine one-run games this season.
"We just need to get the swagger back, so to speak," Torre said, "and start playing -- and winning -- more regularly."
In a subdued visitors' clubhouse after the game, the Yankees dressed in their travel attire for a trip to Chicago, hoping that a day of respite might wash away the ills of their most recent defeat.
The uncertainty of the road ahead surely trumped the harsh finality of the present.
"You can't change anything that's happened," Jeter said. "All you can do is move one day at a time. We'd like to have a better record, but we don't."