By Ernie Palladino
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It has come down to moments now, this wild-card race that simply refuses to be settled without the Yankees having some sort of say in it.
Even after last night's loss to the Blue Jays, a loss they could ill afford, the Yanks are still in it. Yes, they are on life support, behind Cleveland, Baltimore, and Kansas City with but eight games to play. And yet, they still breathe, though far from easily.
Boston has already beaten the heck out of them, and last night's 6-2 loss to the Blue Jays following Wednesday's inspirational comeback victory may just prove to be the dream-ender for this battered team. When you're hanging by your fingernails, you simply can't afford to lose two out of three to a team that just won its 70th game.
It all depends on whether the shoulders Joe Girardi taps from now on do the job.
On Wednesday, he laid it on Vernon Wells, and Wells came through with a big hit. On Thursday, he laid it on Joba Chamberlain and he blew it all up in the seventh by allowing a three-run homer.
A team that did nothing until it exploded with four eighth-inning runs on Wednesday did nothing again Thursday. Five hits, two runs, one on a ninth-inning ground out, were all they managed. It was a repeat of so many of their losses of 2013. It remains a scenario that boggles the mind, not so much about how the Yankees, of all franchises, could look so limp and pliant on offense, but how they have remained in the race for a postseason spot for so long.
It helps that Baltimore has failed to pull away, having lost to allow Boston to clinch its October spot. And we all know the answers to the offensive riddle. It's the old story -- too many injuries, not enough quality bats. And not enough quality at-bats. Witness Curtis Granderson as reliever Luis Perez started him off in the ninth, the Yanks down 6-1, with three straight balls. He took the next one for a strike, and then swung through the last two for the first out.
The Yanks did mount a bit of a rally as Alex Rodriguez walked and Robbie Cano singled him to second, chasing Perez. Jeremy Jeffress obliged with a walk to Alfonso Soriano to load the bases.
Out went Jeffress and in came Casey Jannsen. Wednesday's hero Wells drove in a run with his ground out, but that was it. The Yanks crept quietly back to the dugout after that, knowing full well that the postseason had faded just that much farther into the distance.
In bygone days, the Yanks would simply be playing for jobs and reputations by now. Only thanks to baseball's ultimate chase for the fan dollar -- that second wild card spot -- is there any interested at all in this aged, hurting squad. And it will remain, apparently, even as the Yanks give away games to the cellar teams they're supposed to beat, and need to beat if they expect to leapfrog into the postseason.
So from here on in, we will have a season of moments. If the players who gave Girardi such a good May can offer him a few more moments, then they have an outside chance providing everyone in front of them collapses. It is probably too late for that, however.
Friday they begin the final homestand against the Rays. It won't be easy. But it will be pivotal.
Girardi had best choose wisely the shoulder upon which he places his hand.
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