Tick, tick, tick.

Time is running out on the New York Yankees, at least this underwhelming group of underperforming pinstripes. If they don’t start winning, George Steinbrenner will do something – and do it fast – to fix his $200 million mess.

One can only imagine the ideas in the impatient mind of The Boss:

Fire the pitching coach!

Dump Kevin Brown!

Get Roger Clemens!

If the Yankees are losing, Steinbrenner must always do something.

“He’s very passionate. I hear from him as much when we’re winning as when we’re losing,” general manager Brian Cashman said Sunday night after the latest flop, a 9-3 defeat at Minnesota in which Kevin Brown wasted a 2-0, sixth-inning lead.

Steinbrenner held a Friday conference call with Cashman, manager Joe Torre and team president Randy Levine. The Yankees owner made no new statements Sunday, but his Saturday morning remarks ended ominously.

“It’s really in Torre’s and Cashman’s hands right now,” he said.

The final two words were key. “Right now.”

When Torre replaced Buck Showalter in November 1995, it was the Yankees’ 20th manager change since Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973. When Mel Stottlemyre joined Torre’s staff that fall, it was the 37th pitching coach shift. And when Bob Watson quit in February 1998 and Cashman took over, it was the 15th general manager switch.

Making the playoffs every year brought stability to the Bronx. But at 28-28, New York is at .500 or lower this late in the season for the first time since starting 61-61 in 1995, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Perhaps Steinbrenner, who turns 75 next month, has acquired patience. Perhaps he knows there still is time for a turnaround. Perhaps he’s learned to trust a manager who won four World Series titles.

But right now, they’re the biggest lemon in the Bronx since Bob Lemon was manager two decades ago.

“We just need to keep playing and find a way, keep looking forward and have fun doing it,” catcher Jorge Posada said. “We have a lot of talent. We just have to keep believing in ourselves.”

Their statistics have been what’s hard to believe.

Yankees pitchers have allowed an American League-high 585 hits, and New York is a startling 0-21 when scoring three runs or fewer. Randy Johnson has as many Cy Young Awards as wins – he’s 5-5 with a 4.07 ERA following Monday s loss at Milwaukee.

Carl Pavano, the Yankees’ big free-agent acquisition of the offseason, is 4-4 with a 4.50 ERA. Jaret Wright, also signed to rebuild the staff, was 2-2 with a 9.15 ERA before going on the DL.

Javier Vazquez (5-4) and Brad Halsey (4-3), both sent to Arizona in the trade for the Big Unit, each have winning records. Matt Clement, who signed with Boston after the Yankees showed little interest, is 6-0 with a a 3.17 ERA. Jon Lieber, not wanted back by New York after he asked for a three-year contract, is 7-4 for Philadelphia.

When they went to Kansas City last week, the Yankees were swept in three games by the team with the worst record in the major leagues for only the third time in their history. They have a poorer record than the perennially underachieving Philadelphia Phillies and the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are coming off an 111-loss season. Those teams are both 30-27.

“No one’s going to feel sorry for us,” Cashman said. “We’ve got to find a way to fight through it. That’s what winners do, and we have to prove we’re winners. It’s tough times. You have to find a way to persevere. We’re not giving up on ourselves. We’re not giving up on the season. We intend to fight through it.”

They started the season with 18 former All-Stars on their roster, two former AL MVPs. After going 11-19 in their worst start since 1966, they won 16 of 18 to get back into contention. Then they lost six straight.

Given all that, they’re still only six games behind first-place Baltimore in the AL East, three behind the World Series champion Red Sox.

“If you’re in a leadership position, this is where you lead,” Cashman said. “This is where we make our money, by decisions and on how we approach tough times. This is where teams get their character. This is where teams get made and where they get broken.”

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