BOSTON -- It was a dose of the familiar for the Yankees Saturday, before and during the game.
Before first pitch came the news that Alfonso Soriano, the player most responsible for the club's offensive resurgence the last six weeks, was a late scratch with a sprained right thumb.
No surprise there, as seldom a day has gone by this season without Yankees injury news of some kind.
CC Sabathia then went out and delivered the familiar as well -- another bad outing.
After a perfect first inning, the lefthander allowed at least one run in four straight innings in a 5-1 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park that did further damage to the Yankees' playoff hopes.
"It's only a must-win when it's an elimination game,'' Joe Girardi said, speaking of Sunday night's series finale, in which the Yankees will try to avoid getting swept. "But I think it's a real important game.''
The Yankees (79-70), who lost Brett Gardner to an oblique strain Thursday and have dropped five of six games to Boston during the past two weekends, are three games behind the Rays and Rangers, who are tied atop the wild-card standings. The Yankees, who trail by four in the loss column, have three games left against Tampa Bay.
Without Soriano -- who said he's not worried about the thumb being a long-term issue -- the Yankees saw their offense revert to the bad old days of May through July. Jon Lester (14-8, 3.75 ERA) limited them to a run and three hits in eight innings.
The Yankees could have used the righthanded-hitting Soriano -- who has 15 homers and 47 RBIs in 46 games since they acquired him -- against the lefthanded Lester. "It shrinks your lineup a little bit whenever you have to take someone out,'' Girardi said. "But it's no excuse. You're still major-league hitters and you have to figure it out.''
Sabathia has been trying to figure it out all season without success. He failed to do so again against a team he's had trouble with even in the best of times. And these, clearly, are far from the best of times.
Sabathia had been 10-10 with a 4.62 ERA against Boston, including 4-4, 5.30 at Fenway. He fell to 13-13 with a 4.90 ERA in 2013 after allowing five runs, nine hits and four walks in six innings and throwing 110 pitches.
In the second through fifth innings, he allowed the leadoff hitter to reach base on three singles and a walk, and that hitter came around to score each time. "It's tough when you don't have good stuff against these guys,'' he said. "But I just tried to go out and battle and do what I could, but it wasn't good enough. Hasn't been good enough all year.''
Sabathia retired the Red Sox in order in a seven-pitch first, which turned out to be the lone clean inning of his outing.
Mike Napoli led off the second with an infield single and reached second when Mark Reynolds' throw went into the Boston dugout. Jonny Gomes walked and Daniel Nava's sacrifice bunt advanced both runners before Will Middlebrooks' grounder to short made it 1-0.
The Red Sox tacked on two more runs in a four-hit third. After Dustin Pedroia led off with a single and Shane Victorino dropped Boston's second sacrifice bunt in two innings, David Ortiz doubled home a run and Gomes lined an RBI single that nearly took Sabathia's head off to make it 3-0.
Curtis Granderson led off the fourth with a triple that one-hopped the centerfield wall -- Victorino turned the wrong way on the drive -- and scored on Robinson Cano's grounder. But Victorino's two-out RBI single in the fourth and Nava's sacrifice fly in the fifth made it 5-1.
Girardi declined to engage in what-if speculation regarding how much different his team's postseason prospects would look if Sabathia had been merely above average this season.
"It's always more than one guy,'' Girardi said. "By the question you're asking, you're putting it on one guy, and I don't think that's fair to do.''
But Sabathia, who takes the responsibility of staff ace personally, is the first to tear into himself for his disappointing year.
"It's very frustrating because everyone keeps telling me I'm close,'' he said. "But I don't see it. I want results. I know the team wants results, I know the fans want results. It's just tough not being able to deliver.''