The Rays ran all over the Yankees last night in the Bronx, looking like a brash, energetic Clubber Lang pummeling a tired Rocky Balboa. With a 10-6 victory, Tampa Bay (29-11), baseball's best team, raised its American League East lead to four games over the Yankees (25-15).
One game doesn't make a season, of course, and we know the Yankees have an excellent team. But they took two more hits on the injury front - one considerable, one less so - and at the least, you wonder whether the young, healthy Rays can start to really build a cushion concerning playoff seeds.
Upon the contest's conclusion, the Yankees announced that an MRI revealed a hairline fracture of the bottom of Jorge Posada's right foot. The Yankees' catcher, and one of their spiritual leaders, will likely miss three-to-four weeks, Joe Girardi said.
"We're going to have to overcome it," losing pitcher A.J. Burnett said.
"You come to the park, and you see which players you have that day," Girardi said. " . . . We still expect to win every day."
Posada joins Curtis Granderson (left groin) and Nick Johnson (right wrist) as regulars on the disabled list for an extended period. The Yankees field an extraordinarily deep roster, yet they've lost three of four, with their one victory a ninth-inning comeback Monday night against Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon. They're starting to look worse for the wear.
And the team they're chasing, the Rays, look like absolute stallions, with this game serving as a great exhibit of their talents.
Like in the fourth, when B.J. Upton and Hank Blalock executed a double-steal - they stole six bases, overall - to help move along a four-run rally. Or in the eighth, when Jason Bartlett singled home Sean Rodriguez and then cruised to second as the inexperienced outfielder Ramiro Peña (who replaced Thames) threw home.
"They play aggressively," Derek Jeter said. "They're like the Angels."
To see the Yankees slug it out with the flawed Red Sox Monday and Tuesday, and then to watch the Rays come in and play the way they do - it's a small sample size, of course, but the perceptions match the standings.
The Yankees should be all right. They have their starting rotation intact, and Francisco Cervelli has been such an effective catcher that Girardi had occasionally started Cervelli behind the plate and Posada at designated hitter. Now veteran Chad Moeller figures to come up and caddy for Cervelli.
Brett Gardner has filled in excellently for Granderson, with Thames and Randy Winn taking leftfield; with Thames day-to-day, look for Greg Golson to get called back up after going down to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barres on Tuesday.
At DH, with both Johnson and Posada out, the Yankees figure to be a little thin now. Girardi will probably continue to use the spot often as a "half day" for someone, as was the case for Mark Teixeira last night, so at least the remaining healthy guys stay fresh.
It's a bit of a mess. But even in the worst-case scenario, the Yankees will watch the Rays soar above them and just focus on the AL wild-card spot.
At this choice, the Yankees have no choice but to be humble, and to focus on staying afloat. And to hope that their injury bug finally peters out.