Yankees begin key homestand with three against Orioles

Hiroki Kuroda of the Yankees is consoled by Hiroki Kuroda of the Yankees is consoled by Derek Jeter after giving up a multi-run inning against the Toronto Blue Jays. (Aug. 28, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Just call the entire homestand a must-win. OK, maybe not all 10 of the games, but close.

"We're playing the teams that we're chasing, for the most part,'' Derek Jeter said of the homestand that begins Friday night against the Orioles. "We don't have much room for error.''

After this weekend's three-game series, the White Sox visit for three games, followed by the Red Sox for four.

"Any loss at this point of the season is rough on us,'' Chris Stewart said. "Time's ticking away and we don't really have much room for error at this point.''

The Yankees, who were off Thursday, are fourth in the AL East at 70-63, eight games behind the first-place Red Sox (79-56).

An AL wild card is a more realistic goal, although still a long shot. The Yankees are 51/2 games behind Tampa Bay for the first wild card and trail Oakland by five games for the second wild card. They are one game behind Cleveland and 11/2 behind Baltimore.

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The Yankees' playoff hopes took a hit during their recent 2-4 trip against the Rays and Blue Jays, which halted what had been some serious momentum.

After hitting what Joe Girardi called the "bottom'' -- falling to 57-56 after a three-game sweep by the White Sox -- the Yankees won 11 of 14 and pulled within 3½ games of the second wild card. But their performance in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Toronto again has the Yankees staggering in the wild-card chase.

They received some help Thursday when the Tigers came back from a 6-1 deficit and scored four runs in the ninth, capped by Torii Hunter's walk-off three-run homer, to beat the Athletics, 7-6. And the Yankees could get more help this weekend as the A's host the Rays.

Still, the Yankees have to do their part. "We need to have a really good homestand is the bottom line,'' Girardi said. "We have 29 games left. We're home for 10 games, we're playing some teams in our division. We need to have a really good homestand.''

Brett Gardner said the 2-4 trip -- in which the Yankees were held to two runs four times -- could have been worse.

"We could have easily gotten swept at Tampa, really. We barely won the last game,'' Gardner said of the 3-2 victory in 11 innings. "So obviously, [we're] not happy about the way the road trip went. But we get a much-needed off day, go home and try and get some momentum started on Friday.''

Accomplishing that against the Orioles will not be easy. CC Sabathia (11-11, 4.81 ERA), who has not been himself all season, starts Friday night against Miguel Gonzalez, who has a 2.48 ERA in five career starts against the Yankees, and it's not certain what the infield will look like.

For once, the discussion in that regard isn't the left side, where 39-year-old Derek Jeter and 38-year-old Alex Rodriguez made it through three straight games in Toronto. It's at second, where Robinson Cano, hit on his left hand with a pitch Tuesday, is questionable, as is the player replacing him, Eduardo Nuñez.

Nuñez was a late scratch from Wednesday's game with a sore right knee, which he tweaked in the eighth after replacing Cano on Tuesday. Nuñez got some good news Thursday when an MRI at New York-Presbyterian Hospital came back negative. He is listed as day-to-day, though Friday night would seem a long shot, given the pain he felt when he tried to run before Wednesday's game.

The Orioles, meanwhile, have been a pain for the Yankees the last two seasons. The Yankees are 5-7 against them this season after going 9-9 in 2012. They beat Baltimore in five games in last year's ALDS.

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"We need to play better, that's just the bottom line,'' Jeter said. "If you're going to win games, you have to play better, and hopefully we can start doing that at home. This homestand is extremely important. We have Baltimore first and we have to come ready to play because they have a great team. They're in the thick of things, so it's going to be a challenge for us.''

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