ARLINGTON, Texas — David Phelps entered the fifth inning Monday night pitching so well, it wasn’t difficult to see the two-run pillow he worked with was going to be enough for a victory.
When the right-hander left the mound at the end of the frame, he had lowered the anemic-hitting Yankees in a grave far too deep to climb out of — even on a night when Brett Gardner homered twice and Derek Jeter moved into seventh place on the all-time hit list with three hits.
Four Texas runs in that fifth erased the Yankees’ advantage and propelled the Rangers, easily the worst team in baseball, to a 4-2 victory at Globe Life Park before a gathering of 44,508.
Phelps entered the game 4-0 with a 2.96 ERA in his previous eight starts and was a big reason the decimated Yankees rotation didn’t wilt after losing four-fifths of its arms before the All-Star break.
Two homers from Gardner, the first multi-homer game of his career, staked Phelps to a 2-0 lead heading into the fatal fifth.
The third-place Yankees’ third straight loss dropped them 4 ½ lengths back of the idle AL East-leading Orioles. It’s the Yankees’ biggest deficit since they were five out on July 13.
It was Phelps’ first loss since June 7 at Kansas City. In six innings, he gave up four runs and eight hits. He is 5-5.
Yu Darvish, who lost a 4 ¹/₂ -inning, rain-shortened game to Phelps and the Yankees last week at Yankee Stadium, improved to 10-6. In seven innings, Darvish allowed two runs and nine hits. He walked one and fanned eight.
Jeter went 3-for-4 and moved past Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski into seventh place on the all-time hit list with 3,420. Honus Wagner, with 3,430, is next on the list.
Gardner’s second homer in three innings went over the center-field fence with one out in the fifth and gave Phelps a 2-0 lead.
It was an advantage the right-hander didn’t hold in the home half of the frame, when the hosts scored four runs. The big blow was a two-run single by J.P. Arencibia with two outs and Phelps ahead in the count, 0-2. Phelps came with a fastball that Arcncibia, a .147 hitter entering the game, rifled to center that scored two and put the Rangers ahead 4-2.
Chris Gimenez started the rally with a double to left in front of Phelps retiring the next two batters. Elvis Andrus’ single to left scored Gimenez. Alex Rios followed with a single and Adrian Beltre’s double to left plated Andrus. A four-pitch walk to Jim Adduci loaded the bases for Arencibia.
Phelps needed to get five outs in the first inning when misplays by left fielder Zolio Almonte and Brian McCann presented the Rangers with a chance.
After Phelps retired Shin-Soo Choo and Andrus to start the frame, it appeared Rios’ routine fly to left would be the final out of a perfect inning. However, Almonte, who was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre earlier Monday, lost the ball in the fading Texas sun and it fell in front of him for a single. McCann then botched Beltre’s grounder to put runners at the corners for Adduci, who then bounced back to the mound.
Choo’s one-out double in the third was followed by Andrus getting hit by a pitch. But Phelps retired Rios and Beltre on routine fly balls to center to strand two and keep a 1-0 lead intact.
Darvish whiffed Ichiro Suzuki and Almonte to start the third before Gardner hit a 1-0 pitch over the right-field wall for his 11th homer and a 1-0 lead.
Carlos Beltran opened the fourth with a single and Francisco Cervelli singled with two outs but Brian Roberts fanned and Ichiro grounded out.