Commentary

Adding losses makes for tough division

With a knack for stranding runners, the Yankees fall again as AL East lead shrinks

Updated: September 12, 2010, 3:46 PM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This is how a season slowly slips away.

The New York Yankees are starting to lose hold of home-field advantage. If they fall in October as a wild card, the seeds of their failure would have been planted here in September with each runner left on base and each marathon loss.

The back-to-back defeats to the Texas Rangers don't foretell what will happen in October, but they put in peril the Yankees' road to a title -- with the emphasis on the road.

With each loss in the final three weeks, the Yankees are in danger of having to fight through the American League as a wild card. After two long nights here in Texas, it is something they desperately want to avoid.

The Yankees are tied in the loss column with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yanks are 87-55, while the Rays are 86-55.

The Yankees are a half-game in front of Tampa in what is turning into a tantalizing race toward the division title and home-field advantage. After Sunday, when the Yankees send Dustin Moseley against the Rangers' Cliff Lee, the teams play six of their final 18 against each other, beginning Monday in Florida when CC Sabathia and David Price match left arms.

Those games became a little bigger after Saturday night/Sunday morning's four-hour-plus (excluding the hour rain delay) 7-6 loss to the Rangers.

Mariano Rivera, pitching back-to-back nights and protecting a one-run lead, couldn't close out the ninth, starting the inning by walking the usually unwalkable Vladimir Guerrerro and ending the game by hitting ex-Met Jeff Francoeur with the bases loaded.

When questioned about using Rivera on consecutive nights, Yankees manager Joe Girardi grew defensive.

"He didn't throw 50 pitches," Girardi said of Rivera's outing on Friday, although Rivera did throw a rare two innings. "He threw 23 [pitches]."

Even if the manager got agitated, that wasn't the story of why the Yankees lost. Rivera wasn't Rivera, but every once in a while, that happens. He walked Guerrero, and then the game tumbled away.

"That is what bothers me the most," Rivera said of the leadoff walk.

But the Yankees lost again because they have not been able to drive runners in when they have had chances.

Besides Alex Rodriguez's go-ahead, three-run double in the eighth, the Yankees were awful once again with runners in scoring position. They were 3-for-13 overall Saturday and have left 32 runners on base the past two games.

The Yankees aren't the same team away from the Bronx. The Yankees are a 49-25 team at home. On the road, they are 38-30.

If the Yankees are the AL wild card, winning wouldn't be an impossible task -- but life would be easier if all American League Game 7s were at Yankee Stadium.

"It is real important, but I don't want to risk hurting anyone," Girardi said.

On Saturday, even with Derek Jeter's weak bat resting, the Yankees couldn't come through with the bases loaded. In the second, Nick Swisher failed. In the sixth, it was Swisher again. In the seventh, Jorge Posada couldn't get it done.

Besides A-Rod, none of the Yankees could do it. The final 19 games are going to be important to the Yankees. They could determine whether this season ends in a championship or failure.

GAME NOTES: Brett Gardner will not start Sunday in part because of his sore right wrist, Girardi said. Gardner played on Saturday but was removed for pinch hitter Austin Kearns in the sixth. Gardner said he could get an MRI in Tampa on Monday. "I should be fine," Gardner said. ... Starter A.J. Burnett received another incomplete, although it wasn't his fault on Saturday. The hourlong rain delay shortened his start to just four innings of two-run ball. He gave up four hits, walked three and struck out three. His stuff again looked crisper, but the results weren't entirely there, as Guerrero had two two-out RBIs off Burnett. ... Jorge Posada is expected to start at catcher on Sunday. It will be the first time he has caught since he had his concussionlike symptoms on Tuesday. Francisco Cervelli reached base the first eight times he came to plate in the past two games. He walked six times and singled twice.

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com »

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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