Though not explicitly sounding the alarm to his teammates Wednesday night, Brett Gardner nonetheless offered a blunt assessment of things.
"We just haven't been playing good baseball," he said. "And, obviously, that's something that we've got to figure out here in relatively short order or our season will be over in short order."
The Yankees did not figure it out Thursday night, and while their season is far from over, try convincing their fans of that.
With their offense still very much in a rut, all too similar to the outfit general manager Brian Cashman called "unwatchable" earlier in the season, the Yankees dropped a 6-4 decision to the Blue Jays, who completed a four-game sweep in front of a mostly bored Stadium crowd of 30,112.
The Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays now are tied in the loss column as they battle for the American League's two wild-card spots. The Yankees (78-62) are a game behind the Red Sox (80-62) and a half-game ahead of the Blue Jays (77-62), The Mariners and Athletics, both 76-64, have pulled within two games of the Yankees.
After winning their 13th straight game on Aug. 27, the Yankees held a 9 1/2-game lead over the Blue Jays. Toronto has gained nine games on them in the subsequent 13 days, going 11-1 to the Yankees' 2-10. The Blue Jays have won eight straight and the Yankees have lost a season-high six straight.
Does Aaron Boone see the postseason slipping away?
"No. absolutely not," he said. "We just had a horrible homestand [1-6]. It’s not OK, we're [ticked] off about it. We expect to get it rolling. It needs to happen, but we’re in control of that."
The evening again was about an underperforming offense. Gary Sanchez and pinch hitter Luke Voit hit back-to-back home runs off Nate Pearson with two outs in the ninth, but the Yankees did little before that, aside from a two-run homer by Anthony Rizzo off Jose Berrios that tied it at 2-2 in the sixth.
The offense’s struggles perhaps were best summarized by the eighth inning.
Trailing 4-2, the Yankees looked as if they’d rally against lefty Tim Mayza. Pinch hitter DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge (three hits) singled to begin the inning, but Rizzo grounded into a 3-6 forceout andGiancarlo Stanton hit into an inning-ending double play. The Yankees have grounded into 17 double plays in the last 12 games after hitting into four during the 13-game winning streak.
"We know it can turn just as quick as it's gone sideways here over the last 10 days or so," Boone said.
Nestor Cortes Jr. was solid in his six innings but lost two long battles with Bo Bichette and Randal Grichuk, allowing solo home runs on the ninth pitch of Bichette's game-opening at-bat and the 10th pitch of Grichuk's at-bat in the fifth.
Rizzo’s19th homer of the season and fifth as a Yankee — a 409-foot no-doubter into the bleachers on which rightfielder Teoscar Hernandez never moved — tied it in the sixth, but Toronto quickly retook the lead in the seventh against Sal Romano, the Syosset-born righty who grew up a Yankees and Jets fan and was recalled earlier in the day.
Romano quickly retired Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Grichuk, but .194-hitting Danny Jansen doubled to left on a hanging 1-and-2 slider. Romano hit pinch hitter Jake Lamb and Bichette flared an RBI single to center to make it 3-2. Wandy Peralta struck out Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to leave the bases loaded.
After second baseman Tyler Wade failed to catch Gleyber Torres' flip on a potential double-play ball in the eighth, the Blue Jays scored an unearned run when Peralta walked Jansen with the bases loaded, although he got the final two outs to escape further damage.
Guerrero homered to right-center off Andrew Heaney in the Blue Jays' two-run ninth. That gave him 42 homers, 100 RBIs and 107 runs scored and represented the Blue Jays' 11th homer in the series. Heaney has allowed 11 home runs in 30 1/3 innings as a Yankee and 27 in 124 1/3 innings overall.
It was the first time since 1908 that the Yankees have been swept in a four-game series at home without ever holding a lead, according to STATS and YES, and the fifth time in franchise history, regardless of venue. They hadn't suffered a four-game sweep in which they never led since the 1963 World Series (two games in the Bronx, two games in Los Angeles).
"I don't think it's crazy of us to think that it's going to get going," Boone said. "I understand it's been, on balance, a difficult year for us. But I think when we look at the guys that are in that lineup right now, and where we are from a health standpoint, it's not wishful thinking to know that we've got really capable hitters in that lineup. That said, we’ve got to do better."