Late Sunday morning, Joe Girardi allowed that his club's play this weekend had him feeling "better" about a September run. But he was quick to throw in a cautionary note. "You still know you can't really afford too many slip-ups," he said.
The Yankees experienced a stinging one later in the day. Two Girardi decisions blew up in his face as four pitchers allowed seven runs in the seventh inning of a 7-3 loss to the Orioles in front of 40,361 mostly stunned and angry fans at the Stadium.
"It's a tough one to swallow," said reliever Shawn Kelley, who played more than a bit role in the setback.
The Yankees (72-64) were fortunate to remain 3 1/2 games behind the Rays -- who were swept by the Athletics -- in the chase for the AL's second wild-card spot. But they had seemed to be on the verge of what would have been a crucial three-game sweep of the Orioles (72-63), taking a 3-0 lead into the top of the seventh.
Two three-run homers, one by J.J. Hardy against Kelley and one by Adam Jones against Joba Chamberlain, quickly turned what had been a festive Stadium atmosphere into a gloomy one as the Orioles surged ahead 7-3.
According to Elias, it was the first time this season that the Yankees have lost at home after leading by at least two runs. They dropped to 32-1 in such games.
"Unfortunately, it didn't work out," Girardi said of his first major decision of the seventh.
It came after Andy Pettitte, pitching a shutout, allowed back-to-back singles to Michael Morse and Danny Valencia. That left him at 93 pitches.
Girardi chose to go with the righthanded Kelley to turn around switch hitter Matt Wieters, whom Pettitte had struck out twice. Wieters promptly singled to make it 3-1.
Then Hardy, 1-for-2 against Pettitte in the game, sent the first pitch he saw, a 93-mph fastball from Kelley, to the top of the wall in right -- and ultimately over it -- for a three-run shot that gave the Orioles a 4-3 lead.
Hardy's 24th homer went just over the leap of Curtis Granderson, hit the top of the wall, briefly bounced around atop the wall and was plucked by a fan wearing a Yankees jersey.
The second-guessers revved things up on social media and the press box, but Pettitte did not.
"They send you back out there to get guys out and I go out there and give up two hits and start a rally," said Pettitte, who was charged with two runs in six-plus innings and is 3-0 with a 1.20 ERA in his last five starts. "It's not an issue to me. You can't second-guess going to our bullpen. They've been so great. We have the best bullpen in the league as far as I'm concerned. It just wasn't a good day for them. Nobody in here for sure, not me, and I'm sure not our manager, is going to lose faith in those guys out there."
The Yankees' bullpen had an MLB-best 1.05 ERA from Aug. 16-31, and Kelley has been a big part of that relief corps, both in recent weeks and all season. Entering the game, he had allowed only two of 37 inherited runners to score this season.
Regardless, he failed this time, as did Boone Logan, who allowed a bunt single and a walk, and Chamberlain, rarely trusted in a close game during this season's second half. And he likely won't be again.
After Manny Machado handed the Yankees an out by fouling out to catcher Chris Stewart on a bunt attempt, Chamberlain hung a 1-and-1 slider that Jones annihilated to dead center for his 28th homer and a 7-3 Baltimore lead.
"It's a frustrating loss," said Pettitte, who declined to speculate on the long-term ramifications of the defeat. "We didn't win, so it doesn't matter. There's no sense in sitting here crying over it. We won the series . . . It's a grind and we realize that, but you can't win every game. This is the big leagues."
The offense didn't help, going 1-for-10 with RISP. Still . . .
"It's tough when you're up 3-0 in the [seventh],'' Girardi said. "You talk about winning series, but when you win the first two and you have 3-0, you get greedy. That's the hard part."