As Derek Jeter was finishing up his brief postgame interview and saying all the right things about the position the Yankees are in, the clubhouse sound system perked up and out came the soundtrack from “Star Wars.”
It was the annual rookie dress-up day, which somehow Jeter avoided in 1995. Following a 5-4 loss to Oakland that featured two prominent errors by fill-in shortstop Eduardo Nunez and a few rallies come up short, the Yankees headed on their final business trip of the regular season to Minnesota and Toronto as a first place team.
“It doesn’t make a difference what they did,” Jeter said. “It’s on us to play as how we’re capable of and win our games.”
“We want to win every game, that’s the bottom line,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We have a chance to win our division. We have a chance to win home-field advantage. It’s a disappointing loss and we just have to move on and prepare for tomorrow.”
After those comments, players and various clubhouse staff whipped out their phones and began taking pictures of the rookies dressed as Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Yoda, Chewbaccca, Han Solo and Princess Leia.
It was a time of levity the Yankees could afford because of what unfolded in Boston while the Yankees were trying to make an eighth-inning comeback, though they would have enjoyed it regardless of the outcome at Fenway Park.
As Chris Dickerson was stranded in scoring position, Boston closer Andrew Bailey worked out of a bases loaded jam in the ninth. That ensured the Yankee lead would remain at least one game and marked the 22nd straight day that the teams have been within a game of each other since Sept. 3
“We see the scoreboard all year long,” Girardi said. “Do you look at it a little bit more importantly, sure? But I think our guys have been focused. I think you can tell the way we’re playing and what we’re doing and not worry about what everyone else is doing.
“I like the way we’re playing. I mean, it’s better than the alternative, right? I like the way we’re playing; I like the fight in our guys. We come home and have a really good homestand and we’ve gotta carry it over to the road.
Going to Minnesota and Toronto automatically makes some assume that the road could be easier since both teams are well under .500, but even that comes with caution. Minnesota blew out the Tigers, who entered a game out of first place in the AL Central and Toronto damaged Tampa Bay’s playoff aspirations with two close victories in late August after taking two of three in New York.
“I don’t know if it works to our advantage,” Eric Chavez said. “We still got to play the games. We just have to go out and beat the teams we’re supposed to beat.”
Oakland was not necessarily a team the Yankees were supposed to beat and likely needed the game a bit more than the Yankees and the Athletics got it even if they had to sweat it out a bit in the ninth.
Had things gone differently in the ninth when Alex Rodriguez just couldn’t quite get enough on a Grant Balfour fastball or earlier when Nunez made two key errors leading to the final two runs of a nearly four-hour game, the Yankees could have their first two-game lead in three weeks.
Considering how the past two games unfolded, nobody would have been stunned if Rodriguez’s deep drive to the right field warning track carried into the seats and the Yankees eventually won.
“The way things went for us, you never know,” Balfour said.
Instead, moments later, Robinson Cano was called out on strike three and the Yankees headed on their way to more pressing matters such as getting the rookies ready for their Star Wars outfits and the veterans getting into their suits and ties as a first-place team for the 85th straight day.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.