In many seasons over the last two decades, the final home series has been a time for the Yankees to get properly prepared for the postseason.
Exceptions included last season when the Yankees went into their final home series on the brink of clinching the AL East. But for the most part, those games had been played like spring training games.
This year, there will only be reflection about a season that will likely be a disappointment.
Not many expected the Yankees to make the playoffs -- whether it was in spring training, the early months of the season or during a mid-August hot streak -- and last night that moved even closer to being a reality with a 7-0 loss to the Rays.
“It’s definitely hard because you work for a long time to put yourselves in a good spot to get into the playoffs and right now we need a ton of help and we need to win every game,” manager Joe Girardi said.
The signs were there when the Yankees dropped six of seven games to the Red Sox, losing those games after a stretch of 18 wins in 26 games vaulted them from the brink of .500 to the conversation about October.
“It definitely started that series,” Vernon Wells said. “Taking three out of four in Baltimore, then going to Boston — they’ve had our number. What they did to us at home and then what they did to us there, we caught them at a bad time. That apparently put us in a funk. That’s part of this game, unfortunately. I think there’s enough heart in this clubhouse to finish this thing off the right way.”
Yet it was not meant to be for a team that dominated the headlines for its staggering amount of injuries and making terms like tee and toss, half mound and simulated game part of the daily lexicon.
Appropriately enough, news of another injury took center stage in between the final pitch of Sunday’s crushing 2-1 loss to the Giants and the first pitch Tuesday.
The loss happened on a day where CC Sabathia discussed what led to him suffering a Grade 2 left hamstring strain Friday night in a game that ranked among his best this season.
Sabathia vowed to return to some caliber of the pitcher he was during the first four seasons as a Yankee when he was 74-29 over 129 starts.
The Yankees were eliminated from the first wild-card spot on a day where a truck carrying Mariano Rivera bobbleheads for the first 18,000 fans was delayed on the way to Yankee Stadium. The Yankees announced at first pitch that the bobbleheads were on their way and that in the third inning vouchers could be redeemed. By the time the game ended, after nearly four hours, the massive line was still in place.
When the line began, the Yankees were making attempts to overcome a 3-0 deficit that they had faced just five minutes into the evening as Hiroki Kuroda continued his late-season struggles, allowing five runs and five hits in 5 2/3 innings. His season began with a 10-6 record and talk about being snubbed from the AL All-Star team but he is 1-7 since that point.
The score was 1-0 four pitches in when Matt Joyce sent a 1-1 slider on a high trajectory over the right-field wall. It was 2-0 on the eighth pitch when David DeJesus singled to right field and advanced to third on a shoddy throw in a vain attempt to get Wil Myers at the plate.
“The tendencies have been that I give up runs early in the innings,” Kuroda said. “And today, third-pitch home run, which gave my team a bad start. That sort of let the momentum [begin].”
Three pitches later, the Yankees finally got an out but it also scored a run as DeJesus trotted in on a sacrifice fly by Evan Longoria. The damage had been done and by the fourth inning, the Yankees began getting reinforcements ready in the bullpen.
The Yankees had plenty of chances but could not convert as Kuroda settled down. They stranded 10 through the first five innings. Those innings ended with Mark Reynolds striking out, Chris Stewart striking out, Eduardo Nunez grounding out, Alex Rodriguez flying out and Vernon Wells doing the same.
By the time the Yankees completed the eighth inning still searching for their first run, their number for elimination from the second spot dropped to one thanks to a wild finish in Cleveland that saw former Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi hit a game-ending two-run home run.
“It’s been different things at different times,” Girardi said. “You can look at the Boston series, we didn’t pitch well. We played well in Baltimore, and then we pitched better in Boston the next time we went there, but we didn’t swing the bats. We didn’t swing the bats in Toronto. You lose a game 2-to-1 [against the Giants] when you have some opportunities to do it, so I think it’s been a combination of both.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.