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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

AL East title has to wait as Yanks fall in Bronx and Rays outlast Dodgers

CC Sabathia #52 of the New York Yankees

CC Sabathia #52 of the New York Yankees pitches during the second inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Bronx stage was set Wednesday night.

One win away from their first AL East title in seven years, the Yankees had CC Sabathia’s Stadium farewell (potentially) and Giancarlo Stanton’s long-awaited homecoming as the prelude to what was expected to be a raucous backyard celebration.

All they had to do was finish off the Angels, bask in the adoration from the appreciate crowd of 38,106, then fire up the clubhouse disco lights and smoke machine for the champagne-soaked party to follow.

That was the dream scenario, anyway. The reality turned out to be dramatically different after a 3-2 loss to the Angels, as well as more draining, and ultimately, more disappointing.

The Yankees’ last chance at wrapping up the division on their home field died at approximately 10 p.m. Wednesday when Gio Urshela -- to loud chants of “Gi-o! Gi-o!” filling the chilly night air -- whiffed for the final out against Angels’ closer (and former Met) Hansel Robles.

But that was only Phase 1 of this late-night clinching journey. The Bronx part. Phase 2 was happening 3,000 miles away, at Chavez Ravine, where a Rays’ loss to the Dodgers would seal the deal for the Yankees.

The hitch? The West Coast game didn’t start until 8:10 ET, meaning the Yankees retreated to the clubhouse, to watch their fate unfold on TV, as the Rays and Dodgers were tied 3-3 in the fifth inning.

It wasn’t ideal for anyone, really. As Adam Ottavino talked about his blow-up sixth inning, including his errant water-ballon heave of a throw on a play at the plate, the Rays’ game was on all three TVs above his head. Sabathia talked about his emotional night, seeing his mom and wife in the stands, the hugs with his teammates, but there was a restless vibe all-around him.

Outside the Yankees’ clubhouse, a handful of workers stood at the ready, with ladders, staplers and the plastic sheets used to protect the lockers from champagne spray. They, too, waited for a resolution from L.A.

And waited. And waited. And waited some more. 

Not until close to 1 a.m. ET, when the Rays held on for an 8-7 win in 11 innings. So the Yankees’ clubhouse door stayed shut, the plastic came down, the players went home, and only Aaron Boone emerged to speak with the media.

“We got pretty close there,” Boone said. “We were all ready to go. And then there were some funny noises throughout the clubhouse later in the game and even in that final inning watching it. Hopefully we’ll have better luck tomorrow.”

Boone meant today, actually, as in Thursday, perhaps not realizing we were all way past midnight. The manager said that everyone stayed until the end of the Rays’ game, but if it pressed beyond that 11th inning, he would have talked with a few about heading home to get some rest for Thursday’s series finale against the Angels.

As for Boone?

“I got a bed,” he said. “So I was planning for anything.”

The whole episode was a bizarre scene, set in motion by the Yankees’ multiple failures earlier Wednesday night, despite rallying to tie the score on Aaron Judge’s two-run homer in the third inning. In hindsight, maybe sticking around so late wasn’t the really the best idea.

We never got to find out, but it would have been interesting to see how much enthusiasm the Yankees could have mustered after sitting around watching baseball -- rather than playing it -- for more than 2 1/2 hours. That’s different than the adrenaline rush of coming off the field, fresh off a clinching victory, and then diving into the ice coolers.

Boone said the Yankees were ready to party, despite the odd circumstances. But you have to think, honestly, that they preferred to do it with a win, in front of their fans, and now getting the chance to do so isn’t the worst case either.

With the Magic Number stuck on one, the Yankees are going to be AL East champs for the first time since 2012. That’s inevitable. And now the Yankees have another chance to make it more enjoyable, too.

“Yeah, that’s certainly how we spin it,” Boone said, “and i think that’s a better way to do it. Hopefully we can do that tomorrow.”


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