The final blow to this atypical Yankees season -- mathematical elimination from making the playoffs -- occurred Wednesday night. And no matter how inevitable this was, it's still a strange feeling at Yankee Stadium when October baseball suddenly becomes a fantasy.
The Indians' 7-2 win over the White Sox officially eliminated the Yankees, who will not advance to the postseason for the first time since 2008 and only the second time since 1995. The Indians' game ended as the Yankees were batting in the eighth inning, rendering their 8-3 loss to the Rays irrelevant.
That the Yankees even kept their postseason chances technically alive into the final week of the season -- they have four games remaining -- is a testament to how well they've played in the face of adversity, given how so many of their big-name, high-priced players have been on the disabled list.
But at every corner inside this ballpark, the Yankees remind visitors about how they pride themselves on competing for the World Series every year. Joe Girardi even wears No. 28 to represent the goal of a 28th title.
So not even making it to the next step of the season, when 10 of the 30 teams compete in a playoff format, is still seen as a disappointment in the Bronx, no matter the circumstances.
"When you're out before the postseason even starts, it's extremely disappointing,'' Girardi said.
And now come the changes, and there are sure to be many, beginning with Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte retiring.
The team held a brief on-field ceremony to honor Pettitte before the game, and the fans will get one more chance to say good-bye to Rivera Thursday night. Girardi all but promised that the closer will pitch, marking his final home appearance in pinstripes.
Yet the prospect of competing in a game essentially one step up from spring training didn't sound too appealing to him.
"I'm not used to pitching for something that doesn't mean anything,'' Rivera said. "I want to pitch for something that means something.
"Not that the fans to me aren't special. Yes, they are special. But I'm talking about something like the playoffs. But I'll be there. I'll be there tomorrow.''
Girardi was hoping Rivera's finale in the Bronx would be in a meaningful game, holding out hope that the Yankees' faint playoff chances would live for another day. He even managed Wednesday night's's game as if in a postseason push, removing Phil Hughes after he gave up four consecutive hits to start the third inning.
But his team, coming off two straight losses, didn't respond with any sort of urgency.
Hughes put the Yankees in an early hole, allowing three runs in two-plus innings. David Huff wasn't much better, giving up four runs in 32/3 innings, including consecutive homers to Evan Longoria and David DeJesus in the sixth. And the Yankees' offense struggled again, going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Hughes can become a free agent after the season, and it's likely this was his final start in pinstripes. Assuming he doesn't pitch again, he'll finish 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA, one of the major disappointments for the Yankees.
"You never know what the future holds right now,'' Hughes said, "but it's just a tough way to end this year.''
Girardi said he was still watching the scoreboard in the eighth inning and noticed when the Indians' game turned final.
No one needed to tell him that meant the end was here for the 2013 Yankees.
"You know,'' Girardi said, "and it hurts.''