The Yankees aren’t in free fall and their season isn’t about to collapse, but there are realities the team has yet to acknowledge: The Red Sox are virtually out of sight in the AL East and the home-field advantage in the wild-card race is in jeopardy.
Boston’s lead grew to a season-high 10½ games as the Yankees fell to the Rays, 3-1, Thursday at Yankee Stadium. Perhaps of more significance, the lead for the first wild card is down to three games over the A’s.
Aaron Boone is not making any concessions.
“Look, I mean we’re all aware if you follow the sport, watch the sport, you kind of know what the league’s doing,’’ he said. “But our job is focusing on us, and today we had an opportunity to win the series and it’s frustrating that we couldn’t finish it off. Our focus is the Toronto Blue Jays and Marcus Stroman coming in [Friday]. That’s our focus. I pay attention to the sport, I know what’s going on, but I’m not thinking about what other teams, ahead, behind, that’s just frankly a waste of time. We gotta get after it. We’ve got to get after the Blue Jays, that’s my focus, that is our team’s focus.’’
Brett Gardner added: “No need to give a state of the race. We’re 10 or 11 games back, the Red Sox obviously have been playing great baseball. Frustrating couple of days for us here, hopefully we can get back on track tomorrow ... It’s important to get this turned around. Hopefully, we’ll be playing our best baseball when the time matters most.’’
The Yankees gave themselves a great opportunity to win the game in the ninth inning. Trailing 3-1, they loaded the bases with none out against reliever Sergio Romo. Didi Gregorius singled, Gleyber Torres followed with a base hit to snap an 0-for-17 slump and Neil Walker drew a four-pitch walk. The Rays brought in lefthander Adam Kolarek, and he got Greg Bird on a foul pop before striking out Gardner and Austin Romine to end it.
“Just baseball, just trying to compete, that’s it,’’ said Bird, whose average dropped to .211. “Sometimes it’s just not there and you gotta compete, be a hitter. That’s what I’m trying to do, so obviously that would have been a nice spot to keep the line moving, but it happens…’’
Masahiro Tanaka (9-4) allowed two runs and four hits in the first inning, including RBI doubles by Joey Wendle and Tommy Pham. Tanaka prevented further damage by throwing five scoreless innings. “I needed to make an adjustment on the splitter,’’ he said through his interpreter. “I was just really being conscious of trying to throw it low, low, low.”
The Yankees managed only two hits off Rays starter Blake Snell (14-5). In the eighth, the Rays scored an unearned run off David Robertson as third baseman Miguel Andujar made a throwing error.
The bottom of the inning was interesting, if not wholly productive, for the Yankees. With Aaron Hicks on second base with two outs, confusion reigned when Giancarlo Stanton hit an opposite-field fly down the rightfield line that struck midway up the yellow-painted foul line. First base umpire Greg Gibson called it a home run, but a replay showed the ball had not cleared the wall and Stanton was called back to second base.
“I don’t know what was going on there,’’ Stanton said. “I just knew it was fair. But I mean going from fair to home run to foul having us have to do a replay, it should have been a triple from [rightfielder Mallex] Smith’s reaction to how far it bounced off. Should have been a triple.’’
Given what occurred in the ninth, home run or triple, it wouldn’t have mattered.