The Yankees will play further into October after Sunday.
There was a time this summer, as the season teetered on the edge of bitter disappointment, that those words might have elicited great excitement for Yankees fans. But after an embarrassing loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday put the team back in a precarious position, the idea of playing one more game isn’t necessarily a good thing, not yet.
As recently as Friday afternoon the Yankees seemed poised to host a wild-card game on Tuesday. Now, they face the possibility of getting tangled up in a madcap, four-way tie for the two American League wild cards, which would need to be unraveled on Monday.
In a familiar script for a team that has chased all of its successes with failures, the Yankees put together an impressive 5-1 road trip and vaulted into first place in the wild-card standings, but could not close the deal in their final three-game series, at home. The Yankees needed two wins to secure a playoff spot for a fifth straight year and home-field advantage in the wild-card game.
They lost the first two: The Rays, the best team in the American League, won a narrow victory on Friday in the Bronx, then by 12-2 on Saturday.
Brandon Lowe hit three homers and knocked in seven runs as Tampa Bay reached 100 regular-season wins for the first time in franchise history. The Rays established themselves as the elite team in the league as the rest of the A.L. East fumbled for the two wild-card spots.
“Just a bad day for us, and we’ve got to get over it quickly,” Aaron Boone, the Yankees’ manager, said.
Boone has uttered that sentence in some form several times this season, and on some notable occasions the team responded well. But Saturday’s loss, combined with victories by Boston, Toronto and Seattle, left the suddenly stumbling Yankees in danger of needing to play an extra game just to win a wild-card berth. Only a few days ago, one had already seemed in their grasp.
“The way this season has gone, it kind of makes sense it would come down to the very last day,” outfielder Brett Gardner said. “It seems about right.”
The final-day scramble starts around 3 p.m., Eastern time, for all 30 teams, and much of the intrigue belongs to the A.L. wild-card race. (In the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants could finish in a tie in the N.L. West, but the loser of a potential tiebreaker, a 163rd regular-season game, would still make the playoffs as a wild card.)
In the A.L., the Yankees and the Red Sox are tied with 91 wins apiece. Toronto and Seattle sit at 90.
If the Yankees beat the Rays on Sunday, they are guaranteed one of the two wild-card positions. If a Yankees victory is combined with a Red Sox loss at Washington, the Yankees will play the winner of the second wild card at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night. If the Yankees and the Red Sox both win on Sunday, Boston will host the Yankees in the wild-card game by dint of its 10-9 regular-season advantage over its rival.
On Sunday, the Yankees are sending Jameson Taillon to pitch against Michael Wacha, while the Red Sox have their left-handed ace, Chris Sale, going against Joan Adon of the Nationals, who is making his major league debut. Advantage to Boston.
But Toronto and Seattle are still alive, and the wildest possibility is a four-way tie. For that to happen, the Yankees and the Red Sox need to lose, and the Blue Jays and the Mariners need to win. All four teams would then have 91 wins. Then there would be two tiebreaker games on Monday, with the four teams choosing or receiving one of four designations to determine who plays whom, and where.
The most likely outcome in that situation would be the Yankees traveling to Boston or Toronto to play a tiebreaker game on Monday.
It is also possible to have three-way ties for either the first or second wild cards. Those rules are actually more complicated, requiring two days to complete, and would necessitate pushing the A.L. wild-card game back.
The simplest solution for the Yankees is to take care of their own win and then see where the rest of the teams land.
“We obviously can control our own destiny, in a way,” Gardner said.
The Yankees could have avoided all of this uncertainty by winning Friday or Saturday. Instead, Jordan Montgomery allowed seven runs in two and two-thirds innings on Saturday, keeping the Yankees joined with Boston and Toronto in a conga line of mediocrity.
Boston, reeling after it was swept by the Yankees last weekend at Fenway Park, then lost two of three to the Orioles, the worst team in baseball, before recovering to win twice at Washington to tie the Yankees.
The Blue Jays, with their potent young offense, lost two of three at home against the Yankees, and five of their last eight games going into their final series with the Orioles in Toronto.
Only Seattle, the hottest team in baseball since the middle of August, has played with any consistent determination the last month. But even the Mariners lost at home to the Angels on Friday night before beating Los Angeles, 6-4, on Saturday to set up a captivating final day.
The Rays, who have locked in the best record in the American League, are not playing for much until the playoffs start. Even so, they have looked superior.
“That’s a really good team over there,” Gardner said of the Rays, “but a team that if we’re going to make the playoffs — and ultimately get to where we want to go — a team that we’re going to have to beat and go through.”
Thanks to the Yankees’ poor timing, Sunday will be quite a day for baseball. Monday could be even better.
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