BALTIMORE - This just might be one that's too much to come back from.
On their way to what would have been a spirit-lifting victory over the Orioles Wednesday night, the Yankees suffered a rare bullpen implosion. It led to a crushing 5-3 loss at Camden Yards that might bury the Bombers' slim hopes for a division title.
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And the way the club is playing, having lost four straight and with its offense in another prolonged slumber, a wild-card spot doesn't look promising, either.
"We have to go to Tampa and play well and put this behind us,'' said Joe Girardi, whose team starts a three-game series against the Rays Friday. "We have not won the last two series and we've put ourselves in a little bit of a hole.''
The disheartening defeat dropped the Yankees (61-58) a season-high eight games behind the first-place Orioles (69-50) in the AL East, and 3 games behind the Tigers for the second wild card. It also overshadowed a triumphant return to the rotation by Michael Pineda.
"I think we were looking more at the second wild-card spot . . . that seems a little more achievable at this point,'' said reliever Shawn Kelley, trying to clarify that no one in the clubhouse was conceding the division. "But we have to win every day.''
Kelley played a major role in not doing that this night.
Dellin Betances replaced Pineda in the sixth and tried to protect a 2-1 lead. With one out in the eighth, Jonathan Schoop jumped on Betances' 0-and-1 slider and drove it out for his 11th homer of the season -- fourth against the Yankees -- to tie it.
Kelley retired Nick Hundley, but Nick Markakis singled, Chris Davis walked and Adam Jones slammed a first-pitch fastball to left-center for his 23rd homer to make it 5-2.
"We had a lead late and [protecting them] is one thing we've done well as a whole as a bullpen,'' Kelley said. "A lot of that's on me tonight.''
Betances, who matched his season-high outing of 21/3 innings, kicked himself for the Schoop homer. "It was a slider, it didn't do much,'' he said. "It was a terrible pitch and he put a good swing on it.''
Francisco Cervelli second-guessed himself for not calling for a fastball. "I put down the wrong finger,'' said Cervelli, who hit a two-run homer in the third.
Girardi was ejected in the seventh for arguing Gerry Davis' call that Stephen Drew ran out of the baseline going to first. Girardi said he did not regret pulling Pineda after five innings.
The righthander, in his first start since April 23 and on a pitch count of 85, was perfect for four innings. He allowed a run and two hits in a 22-pitch fifth that left him at 67 pitches. Girardi, with a fully rested bullpen, said Pineda (2-2, 1.82 ERA) was starting to get his pitches up in the strike zone in the fifth, which certainly looked to be the case.
Betances dominated his first two innings, striking out four, and got his first batter in the eighth. But his mistake to Schoop opened the floodgates for an inning that quickly got out of hand, and with it maybe the division race for the Yankees.
Not that anyone is saying so.
"You worry about things when you don't play the guys that are in front of you,'' Derek Jeter said. "We play these guys . We have control over what happens. We play the people who are in front of us. We're not making it easy on ourselves, but we still control it.''