ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Brett Gardner didn’t need a calculator for this equation.
“What do we have, 11 games left?” the leftfielder said late Thursday night. “So we need to win 11 games.”
Informed the number was 10, Gardner didn’t miss a beat.
“Ten games? Then we need to win 11 out of 10,” he said with a smile, responding to a question about how many victories the Yankees needed to realistically have a shot at the playoffs.
There is a kernel of truth in all sarcasm.
The Yankees, already a significant long shot to grab the AL’s second wild card, absorbed a 2-0 loss to the Rays in front of 13,355 at Tropicana Field.
On a rare night when Gary Sanchez didn’t carry the club, as he so often has during the last seven weeks, no one stepped forward in his place. The Yankees (79-73), in failing to complete a three-game sweep of the last-place Rays (65-87), went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11.
They fell to 2-5 on this 11-game trip that continues Friday night in Toronto, the start of a four-game series. “Biggest series of the year, no doubt,” Joe Girardi said.
Still, even if the Yankees take three of four — or miraculously take all four games — their playoff standing might not improve all that much. They are three games behind the Tigers, who swept a doubleheader from the Twins, for the AL’s second wild card and have three teams (Orioles, Astros, Mariners) between them and Detroit.
“It’s steep, there’s no doubt about it,” Gardner said. “We have to be realistic. We’re not in a good spot. Four games, normally you go on the road against a really good team and you win two out of four, you can live with that. At this point, winning two out of four isn’t going to be good enough.”
Rays rookie lefthander Blake Snell (6-8) allowed five hits over five innings, holding the Yankees to 0-for-7 with RISP, 0-for-6 in the first three innings. Former Yankee Chase Whitley threw 2 2⁄3 scoreless innings and Alex Colome had a four-out save.
Aaron Hicks led off the ninth with a single but Colome retired Ronald Torreyes, Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury in order for his 35th save, which left Sanchez on deck.
The rookie catcher had a quiet night, 0-for-2 with two walks, after coming in on a tear. The 23-year-old had homered in four straight games, produced five home runs in his previous 15 at-bats, and had a .340/.407/.894 slash line with eight homers and 12 RBIs in his previous 12 games.
Sanchez saw few good pitches to hit Thursday. “I’m sure someone said, ‘Don’t let him beat you,’ ” Girardi said.
Sanchez, who threw out two runners, struck out with two on in the first and walked in his next two at-bats. Sanchez, who Wednesday became the fastest player in MLB history to hit his 18th and 19th homers (45 games), grounded to short in the seventh.
Luis Cessa (4-3, 4.30) pitched well, allowing two runs and six hits in six innings. It was 1-0 until the sixth when Corey Dickerson homered, making it 15 homers allowed in Cessa’s 15 appearances (seven starts).
“Yesterday [an 11-5 victory] was a good day for the offense, but today was not the case,” Cessa said through his translator. “But that’s baseball.”
Of the 13 Hall of Fame catchers who played in the major leagues in the modern era, only Mike Piazza and Carlton Fisk hit more home runs as rookies than Gary Sanchez (19 HRs, 45 games) thus far:
HR Player, TeamYearGames
35Mike Piazza, L.A. (NL)1993149
22 Carlton Fisk, Bost.1972131
17Gary Carter, Mont.1975144
15 Johnny Bench, Cin. 1968154
11Yogi Berra, Yanks194783
10 Bill Dickey, Yanks1929130
9Roy Campanella, Bklyn.194883
8 Gabby Hartnett, Chi. (NL)1923 85
6Mickey Cochrane, Phil. (AL)1925134
4Ernie Lombardi, B’klyn.193173
1 Roger Bresnahan, Balt.190186
1 Ray Schalk, Chi. (AL)1913129
0Rick Ferrell, St.L. (AL)192964