NEW YORK (AP) – George Steinbrenner is growing impatient, a sign that changes are ahead for the New York Yankees.

It took a dramatic ninth-inning comeback Sunday to avoid getting swept by the New York Mets at Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees began Monday night’s game at Baltimore 6 games behind first-place Boston in the AL East.

Team executives are due in Tampa, Fla., today for meetings with the Boss that could be a prelude to trades aimed at improving poor pitching and disastrous defense.

“My patience is a little short by the fact that the team is not performing up to its great capabilities,” Steinbrenner said in a statement issued by spokesman Howard Rubenstein. “The players have to want to win as much as I do.”

Rubenstein said the Yankees owner dictated the statement to him while lifting weights. Steinbrenner wouldn’t discuss the substance of the meetings.

“He hasn’t lost his fighting spirit,” Rubenstein said. “He said, “We’ll never give up.’ He wants this message to be conveyed.”

Manager Joe Torre got the message, and responded in the visitors’ dugout at Camden Yards late Monday afternoon.

“It’s been a roller-coaster. The team is frustrated. I’m frustrated,” Torre said. “We’d be concerned if he was happy at this point. The players certainly aren’t happy. We want to win.

“As the Boss, he can certainly say whatever he wants. We just have to play better baseball.”

A team that left spring training expecting to dominate has been a sputtering ship that starts, stalls and reverses in repeated cycles. New York began the season 11-19, won 16 of 18, lost 11 of 14, opened a homestand with six straight wins, then lost five of six to Tampa Bay and the Mets before Sunday night.

With the regular season nearly at the halfway mark, the original starting rotation of Randy Johnson (7-5), Mike Mussina (8-5), Carl Pavano (4-6), Kevin Brown (4-6) and Jaret Wright (2-2) is 25-24, and Wright and Brown are on the disabled list.

New York’s 4.52 team ERA through Sunday was 10th among the 14 AL teams, and the starters were 24th in the majors with a 4.75 ERA, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The staff allowed 740 hits, second in the AL behind the Devil Rays.

As for defense, the Yankees had 52 errors, tied with Cleveland for the fourth-most in the major leagues behind Colorado (63), Tampa Bay (61) and Detroit (60).

And at the plate, a sputtering offense stranded a major league-high 606 runners, including 125 at third base.

In the outfield, Bernie Williams’ poor defense in center caused the Yankees to bring up rookie Kevin Reese on Sunday. With Williams out of the starting lineup following 14 straight starts and Hideki Matsui still bothered by a tender ankle, Reese started in left field in his major league debut and Tony Womack shifted from left to center, where he hadn’t started since 1999.

Womack, taking a circuitous route, let Chris Woodward’s fly land over his head for a double with two outs in the seventh, starting a rally that led to three unearned runs. Robinson Cano at second and Jason Giambi at first both made errors.

Matsui was due back in the outfield Monday for the first time since June 12, in the lineup as the left fielder. Womack was again in center and Ruben Sierra was slated to start in right. Gary Sheffield was shifted to designated hitter.

For the Yankees to succeed, the Big Unit must become an overwhelming presence, Pavano must pitch better and Giambi (.256, five homers, 22 RBIs) must produce more. The defensive problems are unlikely to be solved unless there is a trade.

“Everybody is taking the hit here as far as emotionally,” Torre said.

Even going to out to eat is problematic these days. That’s food for thought.

“A lot of people are afraid to talk about it because they think you’re so devastated that you don’t want to talk about it,” Torre said. “It’s not until you start saying things that they relax. It’s just uncomfortable in a lot of areas.”

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