David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
TORONTO - For the eternal optimists out there, we'll begin with the positives from last night's brutal 7-2 loss to the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
Mark Reynolds, the Yankees' third-string second baseman, didn't embarrass himself when pressed into duty for the series finale. Also, after Tuesday's injuries to Robinson Cano and Eduardo Nuñez, Reynolds survived a whole game at the position, which meant Vernon Wells was spared emergency duty.
OK, well, that's about it.
Moving on, we can officially shelve the Cy Young candidacy of Hiroki Kuroda, who is fading fast at a time when the Yankees need him the most. Kuroda got burned by a hideous sequence of events in the first inning, including a costly passed ball and throwing error by Chris Stewart on the same pitch. But he didn't miss many bats either, and the Blue Jays teed him up over five innings with nine hits and seven runs, including a two-run homer by Edwin Encarnacion in the second that felt like it iced the game at 6-0.
Kuroda is 1-4 with a 5.12 ERA in his last five starts, and has allowed 41 hits during those 312/3 innings. Over his last three starts, Kuroda's ERA is 8.10. If this downward trend continues, and Phil Hughes remains in the rotation -- Joe Girardi said Hughes is on schedule for Sunday against the Orioles -- the Yankees will have as much of a shot at making the playoffs as the Blue Jays.
They were 12-1 against Toronto coming into this series. But instead of a walkover, a light tune-up for this weekend's Bronx showdown with Baltimore, the Yankees lost two of three and now find themselves trailing the A's by six games in the loss column for the second wild card -- with only 29 games left to play.
"Time is ticking away," Stewart said, "and we really don't have much room for error. Fortunately, that one loss isn't going to make or break our season just now."
Nine of the Yankees' remaining games are against the White Sox, Giants and Astros, three teams with a combined .401 winning percentage. The rest is the American League East, which aside from another three-day visit to Rogers Centre, is going to be some tough sledding.
Even then, with the A's and Indians in the mix, it's still going to take more than a few lucky bounces. That's why dropping two to the Blue Jays was such a waste, and especially after the diversified manner in which the Yankees flushed it last night.
Despite Kuroda's implosion, the Yankees managed to stick their foot in the door in the fourth inning. After a pair of walks, and Alex Rodriguez's RBI single, Reynolds launched a long double that sent Moises Sierra vaulting into the rightfield wall -- and sent the ball caroming in the other direction.
That trimmed the deficit to 7-2 as A-Rod circled second, which is about the time that third-base coach Rob Thomson killed any reasonable chance of a comeback. So here comes Rodriguez, all the way from first, on two repaired hips, and Thomson chooses to wave him around.
It wasn't close. Not only was Rodriguez out, but Thomson's gambit pushed his legs to the limit -- and forced him to slide hard into the plate. For a few moments, A-Rod just sat with his legs straight out, then grabbed his toes for a quick stretch. At least A-Rod survived the ordeal.
"It was a bad decision," Thomson said. "I messed up. I made a mistake."
Would the game's outcome have changed? Probably not. Thomson's blunder pretty much cemented the loss, however, and risking a serious injury to Rodriguez was an equally big boo-boo.
The Yankees are going to need A-Rod intact for September, just as they have to pray Cano will be ready to return from his bruised hand for tomorrow's series opener against the Orioles. Nuñez would help, but he's headed for an MRI today, and good luck figuring out his health status. The frustrated Girardi is focusing on Cano for now.
"I feel in my heart that he's going to be there," Girardi said. "If not, we'll have to deal with it."
If we spend much more of these games singling out Reynolds for his stable defensive play, the Yankees are in serious, serious trouble.