First things first: The Yankees do not suck.

They are a very, very, good team. Even if they are composed primarily of overpriced mercenaries.

They have a shortstop who risks his neck (and movie-star countenance) jumping into the stands to snare fly balls, while our shortstop dreams of nuzzling up to his wife under California skies. They have a closer who comes in and simply gets the job done, bing-bang-boom, here’s your check, here’s your tip, get my car, Charlie, I’m leaving, while ours searches frantically for the mad skillz that defined his previous season.

And, as evidenced in last night’s dealbreaker of a loss, they get the hits when they need them. We do not. It’s as simple as that.

What more can be said? Schilling was awful. Foulke — who these days looks shit-your-pants nervous everytime he takes the mound — is suddenly very hittable. Millar’s fielding… good lord… I guess we give him the mulligan, because he also provided three home runs, but, jesus, how many runs have we given away due to our defensive shortcomings? And someone apparently forgot to tell Ricky Gutierrez that when the first baseman’s charging a ground ball, it’s okay to cover first base for him.

Or maybe he fits right in here, where lackadaisacal, I-got-no-fire-under-my-ass play has become the norm.

And through it all, Tito rocks on the bench and tells the after-game press crowd that this team is gonna turn it around and find the magic that made last year so deliriously good. And the players sit there and watch, jaws agape, as another game escapes them and they sit and hear the boos and they complain about how tough the fans are and they shower and get into their Hummers and Escalades and drive home to their mansions and their 22-year-old thong model wives and girlfriends. Or at least Johnny Damon does.

The AL East race is over, and this is a huge, HUGE disappointment. The 2004 Sox were built to finally knock the Yankees from their perch atop the division, and go on to win a World Series. A World Series is still a possibility — the Marlins, after all, were a Wild Card entry last year. But does anyone honestly see it happening? Is this a playoff-caliber team?

No, it is not. I want to go on record now: There will be no 15 game win streak. There will be no “turning point” that sparks this team. They will coast along on the Good Ship .500, and if they make the playoffs at all, it will be because other teams failed to live up to their potential as well.

…unless, of course, they win this afternoon. Because then, the comeback will have begun!