MINNEAPOLIS -- When Aaron Boone's previous employer dispatched him to broadcast booths across America on a weekly basis, part of the job included offering unvarnished assessments of the action taking place on the field. From his new perch in the Yankees' dugout, he sees a team that has not been
MINNEAPOLIS -- When Aaron Boone's previous employer dispatched him to broadcast booths across America on a weekly basis, part of the job included offering unvarnished assessments of the action taking place on the field. From his new perch in the Yankees' dugout, he sees a team that has not been able to find its killer instinct.
The Bombers' grip on the top American League Wild Card spot slipped a little more on Tuesday, as Sonny Gray lasted just three innings against a Twins team that punished relievers Jonathan Loaisiga and Tommy Kahnle to blow the game open. Joe Mauer cracked his fifth career grand slam as part of a six-run fifth inning, powering Minnesota to a 10-5 victory at Target Field.
"We've got to do better," Boone said. "We go out and lay an egg like that tonight, we did not play well all around. This is the time where we've got to start playing up to our capabilities and putting our best foot forward, every single day."
Didi Gregorius answered with a sixth-inning grand slam off Trevor May, his 23rd homer of the year and second grand slam, both of which have come against the Twins. It was not enough to keep the Wild Card lead over the Athletics from being trimmed to two games, as the Yankees lost for the eighth time in 15 games.
"We've got a better team than the way we've been playing," Brett Gardner said. "We know we're capable of doing better. Hopefully here over the next couple of weeks that'll all come together. If we play the way we're capable of, we'll look back a few months from now and none of it will really matter. Or if we don't play the way we're capable of, we'll be going home early."
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The Yankees had won nine consecutive games against the Twins, including last year's American League Wild Card Game. Gray's assignment came as the club believed he could handle an offensively-challenged lineup in a spacious ballpark, while offering starters Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka additional rest for the drive toward the postseason.
After excelling in his most recent spot start against the Orioles on Aug. 25, Gray stumbled. An Austin Romine passed ball allowed the Twins' first run to score, and former Yankees farmhand Jake Cave made Gray dance with a hot two-run single up the middle. Gray walked three and allowed four hits, throwing 36 of 63 pitches for strikes.
"You walk guys, it'll kill you," Gray said. "I think that's proven for me over the course of this year. The more I walk guys, the more trouble I get myself in."
Auditioning for a larger role in the bullpen, Loaisiga permitted Jorge Polanco's run-scoring single in the fourth inning before allowing five of the six men he faced in the fifth to reach base -- two on hits, three on walks. All five scored, as Max Kepler worked a bases-loaded walk and Willians Astudillo logged a run-scoring single to set up Mauer's slam to straightaway center field.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Gary Sanchez produced the Yankees' first run with a second-inning sacrifice fly off Tyler Duffey, driving home Gregorius after a one-out triple, but Kohl Stewart kept Sanchez from doing more damage in the fourth inning. The right-hander induced Sanchez to ground into a 6-4-3 double play, ending the inning.
"We've had those opportunities where we have a chance at a big inning," Boone said. "We just can't get that hit to put us over the top. We've got to dig down right now and find it."
Tuesday's loss was out of the ordinary in several ways for the Yankees, who are 63-14 when scoring first this season. They're also 80-36 when they hit a home run. New York has still defeated the Twins in 20 of 26 games since Paul Molitor took over as manager in 2015.
HE SAID IT
"I'm trying to see good pitches to hit. Just looking for fastballs. I don't want to change my timing, because it's not really there yet, completely. I'm just waiting on fastballs every time I go up to hit. It's always been like that." -- Gregorius
As the Yankees attempt to decide who their best option would be in a potential American League Wild Card Game, right-hander Luis Severino (17-7, 3.52 ERA) will have another opportunity to reverse his flagging second half on Wednesday, taking the ball for the 8:10 p.m. ET series finale against the Twins. Severino is 4-5 with a 6.83 ERA in 11 starts after beginning the season 13-2 with a 1.98 ERA in his first 18 starts. Right-hander Jake Odorizzi (5-10, 4.57 ERA) will start for the Twins.
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.