In theory, Saturday could have gone worse for the Yankees. But only in theory.
In a dumpster fire of a day of baseball at the Stadium, the Yankees were swept by the Blue Jays in a doubleheader, almost certainly torpedoing their hopes of a division title as they fell 4½ games behind AL East-leading Toronto.
The Yankees looked so bad in the 9-5, 11-inning loss in Game 1 and the 10-7 setback in Game 2 -- played with maybe 10,000 of the 46,278 who had showed up sticking around in the rain and mist -- that nailing down a wild-card slot suddenly doesn't seem as certain as it once did.
For those inclined to start thinking about other playoff possibilities, the Yankees -- who own the first wild card -- have a three-game lead over the Rangers, who hold the second wild-card spot, and a four-game lead over the Twins, who are on the outside looking in. The Angels are one game behind the Twins.
The Yankees, who have lost five straight, led the Blue Jays by eight games on July 28, but since then, Toronto has gone 32-9 to the Yankees' 20-22.
"I think that obviously, if you get swept, I think it becomes harder to win your division, but it does not mean it's impossible," Joe Girardi said before Game 1. "There's still a lot that can happen in 21 games after today. There's a ton that can happen. I don't think you get too high or too low depending on what happens." But the highs on this day for the Yankees were minimal, to say the least.
Though they hit three homers in the first game -- Brett Gardner, Chase Headley and Alex Rodriguez went deep -- Michael Pineda failed to hold the 4-1 lead they provided after four innings.
In Game 2, Ivan Nova lasted 12/3 innings, allowing six runs and seven hits. Toronto scored six runs in the second, with Cliff Pennington's two-run homer and Russell Martin's two-run double among the six hits in the frame. "We need to right this,'' Girardi said. "We need to pitch better.''
Gardner hit three homers on the day, including a pair of two-out, three-run blasts in Game 2. "Every game I feel like against the Jays is a two-game swing, either in your favor or not,'' he said. "So it's a tough day, but we still have three weeks left and four more games against these guys, none more important than [Sunday]. Trying to avoid being swept by the team you're in a race with, four games at home, it's not the way you expect things to happen. We didn't play well today. Hopefully [Sunday] we play better."
Former Patchogue-Medford star Marcus Stroman, making his season debut after tearing the ACL in his left knee in March, allowed three runs and four hits in five innings. He did not allow a hit until the fifth, an inning in which Gardner's three-run shot cut the Yankees' deficit to 6-3.
After a 33-minute rain delay, Stroman was replaced by Bo Schultz to start the sixth. The Yankees got to within 6-4, but Chris Capuano allowed four runs in the seventh. Gardner's second three-run homer, off lefty Jeff Francis, made it 10-7.
"We still play them four more times,'' said Jacoby Ellsbury, who went 0-for-10 and is 5-for-36 on the homestand. "There's 21 games left. Anything can happen. We have to come out tomorrow with some energy.'' And Carlos Beltran added, "We're going to overcome this. We have to concentrate on what's ahead of us.''
The opener, a game in which the Blue Jays lost shortstop Troy Tulowitzki indefinitely to a bruised back and cracked left shoulder blade, lasted 4 hours, 32 minutes and featured 399 pitches. Toronto put only two balls in play in the 11th but used five walks, a hit batsman and a single to take a 9-5 lead as Bryan Mitchell and Chasen Shreve repeatedly failed to finish off batters after getting ahead. The Yankees threw 52 pitches in the inning.
"It's tough,'' Shreve said. "You want to do good and sometimes it doesn't go your way. It's gone my way quite a bit this year. It just didn't go my way today. I just wasn't throwing strikes.''
The Blue Jays, who hit five homers in Friday night's 11-5 victory, hit four more in Game 1 -- two by Jose Bautista and one each by Ben Revere, who had six hits in the two games, and Edwin Encarnacion. The latter's two-out, two-run blast off Pineda in the fifth tied it at 4-4.
Bautista led off the eighth with his 35th homer, a shot to centerfield on a 99-mph fastball from Dellin Betances, for a 5-4 lead.
After Aaron Sanchez walked Ellsbury and Gardner to start the bottom of the inning, Jays manager John Gibbons brought in Brett Cecil, who retired Beltran on a first-pitch pop-up. A wild pitch moved Ellsbury to third but Gardner remained at first, which proved important when Brian McCann lined an RBI single to make it 5-5. Instead of potentially scoring, Gardner made it only to third. "I just couldn't tell depth-wise how far out it was from the catcher," he said. "I would like to have that one back."
Roberto Osuna walked Rodriguez to load the bases, but Headley popped up. Greg Bird followed with a scorched grounder that appeared headed toward rightfield, but Pennington robbed him of a potential two-run single to end the inning.