TORONTO - Tempted as he might have been, Brian Cashman didn't call Wednesday night's game a "must win.''
"Listen, I want it, I'll tell you that,'' the Yankees general manager said about 11/2 hours before first pitch. "Someone's going to win tonight, but the season's not over today, either way.''
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But after a 4-0 loss to the Blue Jays in front of another thunderous sellout crowd at Rogers Centre, the Yankees' AL East hopes are all but over.
The Yankees (83-68) fell 31/2 games behind the Jays (87-65), against whom they went 6-13 this season. So start lining up Masahiro Tanaka for the wild-card game Oct. 6, likely at the Stadium.
"That's obviously something that's a thought process, but we don't have anything clinched up, either,'' Joe Girardi said. "We have to win games.''
Of overtaking Toronto with 11 games to play, Girardi said: "It becomes really difficult. You need help from the other teams, where if you're one game back in the loss column instead of three, it's a little bit different.
"It's difficult. It's not mathematically impossible but it's difficult. We're going to have to be almost perfect.''
Patchogue-Medford High School product Marcus Stroman (3-0, 1.89 ERA) wasn't perfect in his third start since coming off the disabled list, although it seemed that way at times. He limited the Yankees to five hits in seven innings.
Ivan Nova (6-9, 4.87) was demoted to the bullpen last week but filled in for Tanaka as he nurses a mild hamstring strain. Nova was outstanding, allowing one run and four hits in 52/3 innings. But young relievers James Pazos and Caleb Cotham couldn't pick Nova up with two outs in the sixth, combining to allow two hits and a walk, leading to the game's first run.
Former Yankees catcher Russell Martin put it out of reach in the seventh with a three-run homer off Andrew Bailey.
"I was trying to go inside and didn't execute my pitch,'' Bailey said of the 2-and-2 fastball Martin hammered for his 21st homer. "In that situation I have to be better.''
Nova had retired six batters in a row before Martin drew a two-out walk in the sixth. With lefthanded Ryan Goins coming up, Girardi called on the lefty Pazos, a Sept. 1 call-up. Pazos got ahead 0-and-2 before Goins lined a single to left-center, putting runners at the corners.
In came righty Cotham, another recent call-up, to face righthanded Kevin Pillar. He sent the first pitch back up the middle for a single that made it 1-0.
It was one of the few critical hits by either team. The Yankees went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranded six; the Blue Jays went 2-for-8 with RISP and stranded nine.
In a quiet clubhouse, there were no concession speeches about the division, but no tough talk, either. "We didn't do ourselves any favors in this series,'' Alex Rodriguez said.
A-Rod went 1-for-4 and is in a 4-for-23 slide, but isn't close to being the worst slumping Yankee. Brett Gardner went 0-for-4 to extend his skid to 4-for-35. Chase Headley went 1-for-3 but is mired in a 3-for-34 slump.
"We're not giving up on winning the division, we're not completely out of it,'' Gardner said. "I thought we pitched a good game against them but we didn't do our job offensively. We're not in a great position, but we still have a little bit of season left.''