Yankees' window of opportunity closes
Bombers fall to Rays, but Indians' win seals elimination not long before
NEW YORK -- The fans still in the Stadium late Wednesday night let out a loud cheer as Lyle Overbay drew a bases-loaded walk. The Yankees still trailed the Rays by four runs, but they were threatening with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning.
But moments after that walk, the rest of the eighth inning -- and whether the Yanks won or lost -- wouldn't matter. Nearly 500 miles away, in Cleveland, the Indians had just capped their victory over the White Sox, officially eliminating the Yankees from postseason contention.
Entering Wednesday, New York needed to win all five of its remaining games -- and have Cleveland lose all five -- to have a chance at earning the final American League Wild Card spot. But the Yankees followed the Indians' win with an 8-3 loss to the Rays, marking just the second time in the last 19 seasons they will miss the playoffs.
"It's never easy," manager Joe Girardi said. "We worked really hard to get into the postseason and have a chance to win the World Series, and when you're out before the postseason even starts, it's extremely disappointing."
The odds were long to start with, and Phil Hughes didn't make things any easier. In what could have been his final start with the Yankees -- he will be a free agent at the end of this season -- the right-hander lasted just two-plus innings, giving up a run in the first inning and two more in the third without recording an out in the frame.
After Rays center fielder David DeJesus hit an RBI single in the third inning, Delmon Young reached on a disputed infield single -- Evan Longoria was called safe at third base even though he appeared to be out -- to load the bases with no outs. Girardi left the dugout to argue the call at third, then stayed on the field to remove Hughes.
It was Hughes' 14th start this season in which he lasted fewer than five innings, the most of any Yankees pitcher in a season since 1916.
"Any time you're in that spot, it's tough," Hughes said. "In a game we absolutely had to win, it's tough to lose that way."
As he has in each of Hughes' last five starts, David Huff came on in long relief. The left-hander pitched scoreless fourth and fifth innings before being hit hard in the sixth, serving up back-to-back home runs to Longoria and DeJesus to give the Rays a five-run lead.
Longoria added a home run in the ninth, becoming just the second player since 1969 to hit nine or more home runs against the Yankees in a season.
"To be able to eliminate a team like the Yankees, who have been there all year and have played great baseball, played us tough, it's a good thing," Longoria said. "It feels good."
Hughes and Huff combined to pitch fewer than six innings on Wednesday. Hughes gave up three runs on seven hits over two-plus innings, while Huff allowed four runs on five hits over 3 2/3.
Hughes finished with a 4-14 record and 5.19 ERA.
"It's difficult when things snowball the way they do," he said. "Bad start after bad start, sure, you starting doubting yourself at times, and that's difficult to bounce back from. You certainly kind of question your abilities at times, and this game can humble you really, really quick. That was something that was hard to bounce back from. I tried to fight and battle my entire way through this year, and it just didn't seem to work out."
Third baseman Eduardo Nunez accounted for much of the Yankees' offense, doubling and scoring on Robinson Cano's RBI double in the first inning and hitting a solo home run -- his third of the season -- in the third.
The Yankees plated one more run in that eighth frame on Overbay's walk, but center fielder Curtis Granderson grounded out to second to end the threat.
"It's frustrating. We were close," Cano said. "We're not satisfied, but at least we got this far. We didn't have most of the guys most of the season. It was close, but there's nothing else you can do."
With a slew of injuries to key contributors -- Alex Rodriguez, Granderson, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, among others -- and a franchise-record 56 players used, the Yankees stayed in the race as long as they could. But Girardi will never blame the injuries for the team not reaching the postseason, and he hopes that missing the playoffs will fuel the players going into 2014.
But even with their postseason chances over, the Yankees have four games left to play. Thursday's contest will be legendary closer Mariano Rivera's final game in Yankee Stadium, as well as the Yankees' first home game with absolutely no playoff implications since Oct. 3, 1993 -- two years before Rivera made his Major League debut.
"I'm not used to pitching for something that doesn't mean anything. I wanted to pitch for something that means something," Rivera said. "I'll be there tomorrow, hopefully, God willing, and be there for the fans. They deserve it."