The Yankees, with a slew of help elsewhere Monday night, could have secured their first playoff berth since 2012.
As Joe Girardi said earlier in the day, though, "We have to take care of business first. We have to win."
It didn't happen, delaying what remains all but inevitable for another day or two.
Ivan Nova pitched reasonably well but two fastballs got away from him, leading to a pair of two-out, two-run homers that sent the Yankees to a 5-1 loss to the Red Sox in front of 39,476 at the Stadium. It was the smallest crowd for a matchup in the Bronx between these rivals since May 27, 1999, according to STATS.
The Yankees (86-70), still a virtual lock to host the American League wild-card playoff game next Tuesday, would have clinched their playoff spot Monday night if they had won and the Rangers, Angels and Twins had lost. But the Yankees, with their offense continuing to struggle, made those results irrelevant.
The Yankees' magic number is two to clinch a wild-card berth and three to clinch the first wild card. The Blue Jays lowered their magic number for clinching the AL East title to two by rallying to beat the Orioles, giving them a five-game lead over the Yankees with six to play.
The Yankees lead the Astros by 31/2 games, the Angels by four games and the Twins by five games, and also are two games better than the AL West-leading Rangers, who will host the Angels in a four-game series this weekend. No matter how those four games go, if the Yankees win two more games, either the Angels or Rangers will finish behind them in the wild-card standings.
"Obviously,'' Girardi said, "we still have work to do to get into the playoffs.''
The Yankees also failed to become the first American League franchise to get 10,000 wins.
The Yankees had nine hits but put up goose eggs after scoring a first-inning run against Eduardo Rodriguez (10-6). They went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on base a day after stranding 15 in eight innings in a win over the White Sox.
The Red Sox (76-80) had 10 hits, including the homers by Travis Shaw and Jackie Bradley Jr. off Nova and a two-out solo shot by Deven Marrero off Caleb Cotham in the ninth.
Girardi said Nova threw well other than the two homers, but Nova chose to disagree, saying: "I didn't throw well. We lost."
Nova (6-10) brought a 1-0 lead into the sixth and got the first two outs, but two pitches later, he trailed 2-1. Xander Bogaerts doubled and Shaw hit a fastball into the rightfield stands for his 12th homer.
After Nova sandwiched two strikeouts around Blake Swihart's single in the seventh, Bradley lined a 1-and-0 fastball just over the leftfield wall for his 10th homer and a 4-1 lead.
After the Red Sox squandered a scoring chance in the first -- Mookie Betts led off with a double but wound up being thrown out at the plate on a grounder to third -- the Yankees got on the board in the bottom half.
Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a double to left-center, Brett Gardner sacrificed him to third and Alex Rodriguez lifted a sacrifice fly to right for his 85th RBI.
Leftfielder Bradley did his part to frustrate the Yankees, making two spectacular running catches. He robbed Chase Headley for the second out of the third and chased down John Ryan Murphy's scorched liner to lead off the sixth.
Said Murphy, "I was standing on second base taking my shin guard off asking for time. I thought it was a double. He told me I was out. He caught it. Great play. That's what he can do."
After stranding a runner at second in the fourth, the Yankees did not put another runner in scoring position until Murphy sliced a double off the rightfield wall to lead off the ninth against Robbie Ross Jr. Didi Gregorius walked and Rob Refsnyder grounded into a forceout, putting runners at the corners with one out, but Ellsbury flied to short left and Gardner struck out to end it.
Girardi said of his team's offensive issues: "It's something that you go through. You know that eventually you're going to break out and you're going to break out in a big way. We need to do that."
Said Carlos Beltran, "It's part of playing 162 games. You're going to have your hot streaks, you're going to have cold streaks, and right now it seems like we're battling. We haven't been able to put good innings together."
Beltran knows how important it is to be on an offensive roll going into the playoffs. "It's important to play good baseball,'' he said, "but playoff games, it's not about hitting, it's about pitching. So right now, we have to fight and put good at-bats together. I feel good about [us]. Anything can happen in the playoffs."
The Yankees have had trouble against lefthanders, and it has gotten worse with the switch-hitting Mark Teixeira out for the season with a fractured leg. Said Girardi, "Well, we miss him, definitely. Tex was a force against lefthanders . . . We need to do a little bit better job against lefthanders. We ran into a bunch of lefties this weekend. We ended up winning three out of four games but we didn't score a ton of runs. They were close ballgames. That's something we need to do a better job [of].''
Said Murphy, "Lefty, righty, I don't think it matters. One to nine, we just didn't score enough runs tonight."