This is what it is like when baseball's most expensive dynasty begins to die.

The $11 million catcher says he is "embarrassed."

The $25 million third baseman strikes out to end a game and when asked what he thinks is wrong with his team said, "I'm just here to play third base."

The $12 million center fielder drops a ball in center, misses two others and lets a runner tag up at first and race into second after catching a fly ball 100 feet from second base.

After that, $7 million worth of relief pitchers come out of the bullpen to give up walks and line drives and four more runs.

The manager, who has deftly tiptoed through nine years of elation, dissension, expectations, heartbreak and the whims of an erratic and notoriously combustible boss, leans back in his office chair. He is still wearing his New York Yankees pinstripes though no one can say with any certainty for how long. He lets out a deep sigh.

"We don't feel very good about ourselves right now," Joe Torre said.

Apparently $200 million doesn't buy what it used to. It certainly can't get the Yankees into first place. The old solution of throwing money at every problem that arises has finally failed to work the way it once reliably did in the Bronx. A $64 million starting rotation (more than the payrolls of 15 teams) has two injured players and three others pitching at modest but hardly superlative levels.

Talk radio is crackling, demanding alternatively and all at once for the removal of Torre, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and even beloved hitting coach Don Mattingly. More and more boos fill the old stadium next to the Harlem River, and over the weekend in a series loss to the crosstown Mets, the Yankees had to endure the indignity of a sustained chant of "Let's Go Mets!"

Which means the Yankees come into Baltimore on Monday amid the familiar whirlpool of chaos that has accompanied the franchise for much of the past quarter century. But it is different now than at any time in Torre's tenure. The certainty of a pennant race is gone; the Yankees have slumped and risen and slumped again so many times they speak as if they don't believe in themselves anymore. And that is an unsettling realization.

"We've had some spurts, some blocks of good games, but for the type of club we were supposed to have, with a veteran club, we have not had the consistency," Torre said.

But hasn't this happened before? Haven't the Yankees gone through early slides only to find themselves in the waning days of summer and then roar into October?

Torre nodded, then shook his head.

"Maybe, but not the point of having so many ups and downs," he replied. "This one is the strangest, I guess, mix of emotions and styles of playing that I've had here."

Then he paused.

"I'm not telling you anything you haven't seen or the players haven't felt," he finally said.

Walking around the clubhouse one can't help but notice the signs of a team trying to find itself despite 10 straight playoff appearances and six World Series in the last decade. The old standbys who were part of the core of the four World Championships in the late 1990s are sprinkled loosely around the room. Only shortstop Derek Jeter, catcher Jorge Posada, first baseman Tino Martinez, center fielder Bernie Williams and reliever Mariano Rivera remain from those days.

Their words are stripped of the old defiance that used to mark the Yankees way. More and more their comments are laced with confusion and uncertainty. Here are the Yankees, one game over .500 and 61/2 games out of first place three weeks before the all-star break. On the surface, it would hardly seem time for panic. And yet the future suddenly seems to be a vague concept to this group. That's how much the present has shocked them.

"It's tough, you know," Posada said. "I'm not sleeping well. It's tough what we're going through. We are playing .500 baseball and doing a lot of things that look bad out there. It's not a .500 team. We show signs of that when we are playing good. It's up to us."

The problem is, they don't play well enough on a regular basis anymore. This past week should have been a perfect chance for the Yankees to build a layer of confidence. They had back-to-back series against the mediocre Mets and the dreadful Devil Rays. And instead they lost both series -- something the old Yankees would not have done.

"It's embarrassing, no doubt about it," Posada said.

They look old. Two of the three men who were supposed to anchor New York's rotation -- Randy Johnson and Kevin Brown -- are both in their 40s. Mike Mussina is 36. So is Williams, who dropped a routine fly ball Friday night. The next day, he nonchalantly caught a short fly into center field and then glanced to the ground after grabbing the ball, completely ignoring the Mets' Mike Cameron, who tagged on the play and raced to second. Later in the game, Williams swooped in to pick up a ground single, ready to throw to the plate, only to miss the ball altogether.

Increasingly there are days like this for Yankees players.

Afterward, Torre said the team was asking Williams to do too much and said he needed to give his one-time star a day off. He went on to lament the ankle injury to Hideki Matsui that has kept Matsui from playing center in Williams's place. Asked if there was a solution in center field, Torre brought up Bubba Crosby, who can't rejoin the team until Friday after being demoted recently when the team needed pitching help.

New York is 0-26 when it scores three runs or fewer and after last night's rally against the Mets, 5-34 when trailing after seven innings. Anyone who remembers the great Yankees' comebacks in the late 1990s or in the 2001 World Series would not recognize those numbers.

Saturday, Torre said he started a pitcher -- Sean Henn -- who doesn't belong in the major leagues.

The $200 million dynasty is teetering.

"It's concerning, no question," Torre said. "All year I don't think we've had a grasp on who we are and what we can be."

Alex Rodriguez (.330), left, and Derek Jeter (.309) are playing well for New York, but the team has been wildly inconsistent so far this season.