DETROIT - The often fine line between winning and losing could be measured by a few feet Thursday afternoon.
In the top of the ninth inning, Brian McCann's drive down the rightfield line hooked foul at the last second, a potential tiebreaking three-run homer gone with the wind, in Joe Girardi's estimation.
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In the bottom half, Ichiro Suzuki sprinted back but couldn't quite catch up to Alex Avila's two-out drive to right-center off Shawn Kelley. That gave Detroit a walk-off 3-2 win over the Yankees in front of a sellout crowd of 42,647 at Comerica Park.
"We didn't have any luck on our side," Girardi said. "I thought we swung the bats well. We just hit it at people."
After Dellin Betances pitched a scoreless eighth, Kelley started the ninth and was greeted by a double by Victor Martinez.
Kelley walked J.D. Martinez before striking out Nick Castellanos and pinch hitter Torii Hunter. But Avila swung at a first-pitch slider and crushed it to the base of the 365-foot sign in right-center, just out of the reach of the sprinting Suzuki.
"That's about as bad as I've felt on the mound in my career," said Kelley, who angrily fired his glove into the grass. "I overthrew a slider and left it up."
Kelley thought it was a homer off the bat and therefore didn't think Ichiro had a play. The rightfielder wasn't sure.
"I didn't know if I could get there, but it's a do-or-die play there so you just have to go full speed at it," Ichiro said through his translator.
Former Yankee Joba Chamberlain, who pitched a scoreless 11/3 innings, said: "I've seen him make catches like that. You never know what Ichiro's going to do out there."
Minutes before that, McCann didn't miss hitting a three-run homer by much. "I thought it was fair," McCann said of his drive against former Yankees lefthander Phil Coke. "It just kept hooking."
Said Girardi: "If the wind's not blowing a little bit from left to right, it probably is a home run."
Coke then struck out McCann with two 95-mph fastballs to end the inning.
It was a damaging loss for the Yankees (69-63), who are three games behind the Tigers and Mariners (72-60) for the AL's second wild card. The Yankees start a three-game series in Toronto against the Blue Jays (67-66) Friday night.
Though the wild card seems a much better possibility -- the Yankees trail the AL East-leading Orioles by seven games -- Derek Jeter said winning the division title is the objective.
"That's always the goal," he said. "But again, we play our division . If we win our games, we'll be fine. But I don't ever think you set your sights on something less than you can accomplish. Our goal is to win games. We need to win tomorrow."
The Yankees were held in check by lefthander Kyle Lobstein, who allowed four hits in six innings in his first major-league start and second appearance. The Yankees, who had nine straight hits to start an eight-run third inning against former Cy Young Award winner David Price a night earlier, stung their share of balls against Lobstein but ended up scoring only two runs, one of which was unearned. Since going 12-for-17 against Price, they are 7-for-51.
"From the game I saw, we swung the bats better today than we did yesterday," Girardi said.
Said Brett Gardner, "We had nine straight hits against Price. Some things have to go your way for that to happen. That's why we play 162 games instead of a hundred. I feel like it works itself out in the end, and hopefully in the end we're still standing."