When he spoke earlier this week about last night's game, Masahiro Tanaka could have been talking on behalf of the whole Yankees team. He had essentially said that this was not just a dry run for the playoffs. "Dry'' was not the word to describe their situation, what with bad weather and champagne on the way.
The Yankees were close enough to the bubbly to taste it, given that their magic number was down to one after their wild-card pursuers, the Angels and Twins, both lost last night. It seems only a matter of time before the Yankees celebrate and Tanaka prepares for his start in the one-game playoff Tuesday. They just couldn't clinch it last night at Yankee Stadium, losing to the Red Sox, 9-5, in 11 innings.
Despite having flashed the resilience that has put them on the verge of the postseason, rallying from a 4-1 deficit to take a 5-4 lead, they could not quite push themselves across the finish line.
Andrew Bailey, the Yankees' fifth pitcher of the game, allowed three hits in the 11th, and all of those runners scored. Mookie Betts capped it with a two-run home run against Chasen Shreve -- Betts' second homer of the night. So the bottles remained corked.
The Yankees were aware of the other scores, but not distracted by them.
"We were focused on winning the game,'' Joe Girardi said. "I've said all along our focus has to be on winning games and we need to win a game. It was frustrating because we had a lot of opportunities and we fought to get back in the game,''
Tanaka, the staff ace returning from a pulled hamstring, hadn't pitched since Sept. 18. He said the other day that he did not consider this a tuneup, but rather an important start. He allowed a three-run home run in the first inning and gave up another run in the third.
"I was a little bit rusty,'' he said through a translator, adding that his splitter, an important pitch, was not working as well as it usually does.
"It's kind of a different story if you have 12 days when your body is completely healthy. It was a little bit hard.''
All of the Yankees' starting pitchers have been on the disabled list this season, which is one reason why the club decided a while ago to celebrate making the playoffs, even if it did not win the American League East title. The Blue Jays wrapped up the division with a victory against the Orioles while Tanaka was struggling to get out of the first inning, as Travis Shaw hit the homer.
His team rallied for him, recovering to take a 5-4 lead in the sixth on Alex Rodriguez's 33rd home run. But Betts drilled a two-out homer against Dellin Betances in the seventh.
Overall, the Yankees showed flaws that need to be corrected before the postseason. The bullpen, except for Justin Wilson and Andrew Miller, failed again. Betances has allowed six homers this season, all since July 4. Their hitting has not been opportunistic: Didi Gregorius last night ended four innings, stranding nine runners.
"It's baseball. I thought we swung the bats extremely well,'' Girardi said.
The manager added that he saw enough from Tanaka -- he retired the final eight batters he faced -- to feel good about him starting the wild-card game Tuesday.
For his part, the pitcher said, "I have not been told if I'm pitching the wild-card game or not, but I think it was a good sign that I was able to come out of this game pretty strong.''
The out-of-town scoreboard had offered tantalizing news.
"Where we are, you can't see the scoreboard,'' Betances said of the bullpen. "This was a tough loss. Any time you have the lead, you expect to win. But we'll be all right.''
They need only one more win.