Good Morning
Good Morning
SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Yankees’ road to the playoffs gets tougher in sprint to the wire

New York Yankees third baseman Chase Headley returns

New York Yankees third baseman Chase Headley returns to the dugout after he strikes out looking against the Tampa Bay Rays during the ninth inning of an MLB baseball game at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Yankees wanted to win Sunday’s game against the Rays. They really did.

But as Chase Headley said, “You’re not going to win every game that you play.”

So after their seven-game winning streak ended in a lackluster 4-2 loss at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, the Yankees headed back to the clubhouse to check the scores.

The NFL scores.

Sure, the Yankees were aware of the baseball games that mattered in their playoff quest (Boston-Toronto and Baltimore-Detroit, among others).

But there are three weeks left in the baseball season and it was Week 1 of the NFL. Baseball still may be called the national pastime, but football has a hold on society that can’t be denied.

The Yankees’ game ended a little after 4 p.m. — the perfect time to check the end of the early NFL games.

While losing pitcher Luis Cessa was answering questions about the three home runs he allowed in 5 2⁄3 innings, CC Sabathia was watching the end of the Raiders-Saints game on a tablet inside his locker.

Sabathia, a Bay Area native and rabid sports fan, will start Tuesday against the Dodgers in the second game of an interleague interlude before the Yankees play their final 17 games exclusively against AL East rivals.

After Sunday’s results, the Yankees are two games out of both wild cards and four games behind the Red Sox in the division. They have seven meetings left with Boston, four at Toronto and three with Baltimore — the final three of the regular season — as well as three at Tampa Bay.

The baseball season is a marathon. You’ve heard that a million times. Now it’s a sprint, a three-week race to an improbable postseason berth if the Yankees do it right.

“We talk about it being a marathon because we do kind of ease into it,” Sabathia said between peeks at his beloved Raiders. “Now it’s time for the sprint. It’s time to put the pedal to the metal and see what we can do.”

In football, each game can be its own mini-season because there are only 16 of them. Baseball isn’t like that until the very end. That’s why the Yankees could shake off Sunday’s defeat, knowing they are in a playoff race nobody predicted when they began their July sell-off and youth movement.

So how do they feel about their chances? Before he could answer that probing question, Sabathia slipped on a vintage Bo Jackson No. 34 jersey and Raiders cap and watched Oakland coach Jack Del Rio call for a two-point conversion instead of a tying extra point.

“They made it,” Sabathia said softly as the Raiders converted the two-point conversion to take a 35-34 lead with 47 seconds left. Then he turned back around.

“I feel like we’re in a good spot,” Sabathia said without missing a beat. “We play all the teams in front of us, and that’s all you can ask for. It’s playoff baseball.”

Not quite yet. Still, it’s a tough road ahead with the Dodgers and then four games at Fenway Park this week.

“The teams that we’re trying to catch, we’re playing,” Headley said. “Obviously, it’s not going to be easy.”

Oh, the Raiders ended up winning. Sometimes you have to go for it. On Monday, the Yankees will continue going for a playoff spot that a few months ago looked like nothing short of a Hail Mary. It’ll be fun to see if they can punch it in.

New York Sports