It’s baseball’s version of a psychological thriller, and the Yankees are living it.
There was a time, not so long ago, where the Yankees seemed easily destined for home-field advantage in this year’s wild-card game, and particularly suited to beat the pine tar out of any team that dared challenge them. But then these last few weeks happened: Things suddenly aren’t going quite right, and a threatening shadowy figure – the A’s, who are hot on their heels in the wild-card standings – is showing up at every turn.
Talk about a nail-biter, and early Saturday night -- after a thwarted comeback that left the Yankees with an 8-7 loss to the Blue Jays -- the anxiety reached another peak. After their ninth loss in their last 16 games, they were fortunate to remain 1 1/2 games ahead of the A’s, who lost to the Rays, 7-5.
Are the Yankees worried? “Yeah,” Didi Gregorius said. “Because we’re supposed to win…We’re not playing that way now, but we’ll pick it up soon.”
That was the theme after the Yankees scored six times in the seventh to draw within a run but failed to make up for a poor performance by CC Sabathia and the bullpen. Yes, they’re concerned, but no, not to the point where they think they can’t turn things around.
After all, they had Gregorius, who hit two home runs Saturday, giving him 26 for the season and breaking his own franchise record for single-season home runs by a shortstop. They also have Rookie of the Year candidate Miguel Andujar, who came off the bench and later belted his second grand slam of the year to cap the six-run seventh.
“We have a group in there capable of turning this thing in a heartbeat, and we’ve just gotta keep battling through this right now,” Aaron Boone said. “I feel like we’re showing some signs of pulling ourselves out of it a little bit, but we’ve got to do better. We’ve gotta get more consistent. And that’s been the toughest thing about us right now … I also feel like we’re also just a few games away from getting on that roll from where we start rolling downhill and start beating people up, and we’ve got to get there.”
The Yankees were one big hit from a different narrative entirely. With the bases loaded and none out in the second inning, Jays righthander Sean Reid-Foley -- who fanned 10 in five innings -- struck out Neil Walker, Luke Voit and Brett Gardner to escape unscathed. Andrew McCutchen struck out with the bases loaded to end the sixth. With a man on second and two outs in the eighth, Gary Sanchez struck out. The Yankees went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10.
Gregorius homered in the sixth to make it 5-1, but the Blue Jays scored three runs in the top of the seventh on Aledmys Diaz’s two-out, two-run single off Tommy Kahnle and Richard Urena’s RBI single off Stephen Tarpley.
With the Blue Jays leading 8-1, Giancarlo Stanton led off the bottom of the seventh with his 34th home run, a drive to left off Ryan Tepera, and two batters later, Gregorius hit his second homer of the game. A two-out double by Gleyber Torres and two walks loaded the bases for Andujar, who blasted former Yankee Tyler Clippard’s 90-mph fastball to left for the grand slam, getting the Yankees to within 8-7.
Sabathia was pulled after allowing five runs and seven hits in 2 1/3 innings and giving up three home runs – two by Randal Grichuk and another by Kevin Pillar. He has not won since Aug. 12 and has a 6.75 ERA in five starts since then.
Sabathia said he has lost his cutter and is working to get it back. “I just wasn’t sharp,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was throwing the ball to the catcher. It felt like I was just kinda getting it in there. The velocity didn’t seem like it was that good … Just one of those days.”
The Yankees struck out 16 times (and drew eight walks) against seven Blue Jays pitchers. Their four home runs gave them 240 in 148 games, a pace that projects to 263 in 162 games -- one fewer than the record of 264 set by the 1997 Mariners.
“We kept fighting,” Boone said. “I love the fight [we had] all day.”
“You know, it’s a frustrating one.”
And if you’re the Yankees, a little scary, too.