"It's been a long time since this team has been in this situation," Mussina said. "You have to think it's natural to still think we have a chance, still think we can get hot, still think we can run off a couple of weeks of really good baseball and hope we get a break."
To put it simply, the Yankees need help, and plenty of it. Any combination of 12 Yankees losses or Red Sox victories will eliminate New York from AL Wild Card consideration.
"It's not where we want to be," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "There's 19 games left and we're going to have to win most of them -- maybe all of them. You keep fighting."
Still individually hoping for a chance at 20 victories, Mussina endured an early scare when the second hitter he faced, Jeremy Reed, hit a hot shot back to the box that caught Mussina's chest dead center. He picked up the ball and tossed it to first base, and after an inspection on the mound, he was told to ice the area after the game.
Mussina said that the impact did not affect his pitching, but the right-hander turned in an effort dissimilar from many this season. Staked to a 2-0 lead as Derek Jeter and Xavier Nady each clubbed solo home runs off Mariners starter Ryan Feierabend, Mussina slowly let the advantage trickle away, suffering his first loss since July 28.
Bobby Abreu ran out of room chasing Adrian Beltre's two-run homer in the third inning and Jose Lopez just cleared the left-field wall for a solo shot leading off the fourth inning -- his first of two homers, also going deep facing Jose Veras in the eighth.
"I felt flat today," Mussina said. "I didn't feel like I had my best stuff. It was going to take my best stuff today considering how their guy was pitching. I made some mistakes today and got in some bad counts. When you get in situations like that, you don't feel like you're throwing the ball where you want to."
Mussina's own throwing error on an Ichiro Suzuki tapper sparked another rally in the fifth, as the speedster singled and advanced to second on the miscue, then scored Seattle's fourth run on Raul Ibanez's base hit up the middle. Mussina left on the losing end of the decision, having allowed seven hits while walking one and striking out seven.
Aside from the solo home runs, the Yankees had trouble manufacturing runs against Feierabend, originally intended to pitch on Wednesday but inserted just before game time when scheduled starter Carlos Silva was scratched with back spasms.
"It's kind of tough to win when you score two runs," Jeter said.
New York left two men aboard in the fourth, as Feierabend struck out Robinson Cano and got Jose Molina to fly out, wasting what Girardi called a "golden opportunity." In the fifth, Rodriguez committed a mental mistake, as Feierabend picked him off to end the frame, though Jeter was credited with a caught stealing in the rundown.
"I still don't know [what happened]," Rodriguez said. "That was a great play. To this moment, I haven't seen him throw the ball to first yet. That's the first time that has ever happened to me in my career."
Rodriguez in particular endured a difficult series, still booed incessantly by the Seattle crowds. A-Rod went 0-for-10 with two walks and a hit-by-pitch in the set.
"It's been a very frustrating stretch, that's for sure," Rodriguez said. "These are games that we need to win and we just haven't been winning lately."
Rodriguez's miscue spelled the end of the Yankees' offense -- they didn't manage another baserunner until a last gasp against closer J.J. Putz in the ninth inning, when a hit-by-pitch and a single set up the tying run at the plate. But Cano struck out and so did pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit, ending the game.
The Yankees were left to shower and pack up for the final leg of a 10-game road trip that Girardi had hoped would define their season. Perhaps it has, but not the way the manager had optimistically intended.
"It looks like the rest of our season," Mussina said. "It looks like you play OK for a couple of days and then we don't play very well for a couple of days. Aside from the eight days after the All-Star break, we haven't strung anything together. It makes it tough to make up any ground."