David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BOSTON - It was nice of the Red Sox to give Mariano Rivera a few going-away gifts on what sure seemed like "Cowboy Up" night at Fenway Park, and sticking the Yankees with another embarrassing loss to complete the weekend sweep left a dent in their ancient foe's playoff hopes as well.
But Joe Girardi, ever the optimist, is not the only one in pinstripes who believes a wild-card spot remains there for the taking. Girardi cited the "hard times" of the Yankees' short list of combatants, and he's right about that.
As for Robinson Cano, he's putting his faith in a higher power and is confident the Yankees will make it to the postseason.
"We will," Cano told Newsday's Anthony Rieber. "I think God has a plan for Mo."
From where we sit, that plan is shaping up to be a mad scramble during the next dozen games. Because as flawed as the Yankees may be, so is every other team trying to claim one of the two American League wild cards, which currently seem to be as desirable as chickenpox or having Miley Cyrus perform at your kid's birthday party.
Not too long ago, Girardi estimated that it would take 90 wins for the Yankees to squeeze into the playoffs. A fair assumption, considering that baseball's October tournament is supposed to involve the best teams.
But at this rate, Bud Selig would settle for mediocre. Heck, he's probably rooting for Alex Rodriguez to get in for the TV ratings. And after surveying the AL field, Girardi felt inclined to back off his original number, even before Sunday night's loss.
"It might come down from that a little bit," Girardi said, smiling. "Eighty-nine might do it."
In case you don't have the records handy, the Yankees have 79 wins with 12 games left after Sunday night's 9-2 loss to the Red Sox. By Girardi's assessment, that's close to running the table against the Blue Jays -- who are next up tomorrow night at Rogers Centre -- followed by the Giants and Rays in the Bronx before wrapping up the regular season in Houston.
Aside from Tampa Bay, those remaining teams are awful, but we're not getting an 11-win vibe from the Yankees, either.
This feels like a situation in which all five of the wild-card combatants wind up collapsing to the mat, like Rocky and Apollo Creed at the end of "Rocky II," and only two stagger to their feet ahead of the 10-count.
Of course, there's no reason one can't be the Yankees.
"We've had to get up a number of times off the carpet and we've continued to do it time and time again," Girardi said. "So I expect our guys will do it again."
Girardi was saying that from his desk at Fenway. But different variations of that same speech probably already have been uttered by Ron Washington, Joe Maddon and Buck Showalter -- managers of teams with the killer instinct of SpongeBob SquarePants.
Look at the Rangers. After falling again to Oakland, which completed a three-game sweep Sunday, the Rangers finished off their first winless homestand of six games in franchise history and never led at any point. Texas is 2-11 in September since having a two-game division edge to begin the month.
Or how about the Rays, who blew a 3-0 lead Sunday in a 6-4 loss to the woeful Twins that snapped an 11-game winning streak against Minnesota. Maddon's fun bunch is now 7-14 since Aug. 25, a date when most contending clubs decide it might be time to kick some butt rather than be the kickee.
Speaking of derrieres, the Rangers visit Tropicana Field for a four-game series starting Monday night, and with the two teams now tied for the top wild-card spot, it's an opportunity for one to create some breathing room. Which means, of course, a split is inevitable.
The Indians pulled to within a half-game of the wild-card leaders with a four-game sweep of the White Sox and also have a cake schedule for the backstretch: Astros, Twins and, to make it even cushier, the White Sox again.
The Orioles (2½ back) just took two of three in Toronto to win their first road series against an American League team since early April.
You want tight? Baltimore is batting .216 (37-for-171) with runners in scoring position in its last 22 games and is 16-28 in one-run decisions this season after going 29-9 a year ago.
Confronted by all that, Girardi replied, "We need to win."
Eventually, somebody has to. Just not yet.