It took 47 days for a 10-game lead atop the AL East to evaporate for the New York Yankees .
The next five could go a long way in determining if they even make the postseason given their recent struggles.
The Yankees set out to avoid a three-game sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night and desperately try to create any momentum for a critical four-game set that follows at Baltimore.
On July 18, New York appeared to be running away with the division, sporting a 57-34 record while leading second-place Baltimore by 10 games and third-place Tampa Bay and Boston by 10 1/2.
While the Red Sox are an afterthought, the surging Orioles and Rays have reeled in the scuffling Yankees to forge a three-team sprint for the final month of the season that could result in all three making the playoffs - or just the division winner.
Tampa Bay (75-61) further lessened the gap with a 5-2 victory Tuesday to draw within 1 1/2 games and helped Baltimore grab a share of the lead with New York at 76-59 after it defeated Toronto.
"A lot of people on our side kind of wrote it off when we were 10 1/2 games out, but I've been around long enough to know that this is a long season," said center fielder B.J. Upton, who homered for the Rays. "A lot of things can happen, especially with the second wild card in place."We find ourselves a game and a half out in September. There's still a long way to go, a pretty tough schedule. We know what's ahead of us."
The Yankees have dropped five of six, with their usually potent offense failing to sustain itself. Robinson Cano accounted for all the offense with a two-run first-inning homer, but New York finished with six hits or less for the fifth consecutive game - its longest run since a six-game stretch Aug. 30-Sept. 5, 1990."The team is not playing good right now, but we've just got to forget about this game and just go out there and play hard tomorrow," Cano said. "We're tied. It's time to start at zero. Just keep playing hard, and forget about what happened the past few weeks. Just focus on the game."
Cano, who is hitting .382 (21 for 55) with five doubles and three homers versus Tampa Bay this season, is also 2 for 3 against Rays scheduled starter Matt Moore (10-8, 3.58 ERA). The left-hander suffered his first loss in seven starts Thursday at Toronto, where he allowed a first-inning two-run double and got no offensive help in a 2-0 defeat."I can't really get on a young pitcher who gives up two runs in six innings," manager Joe Maddon said. "When you don't score any runs you can't cover any mistakes."
Tampa Bay bailed out Moore in his only start against New York this year, rallying from a two-run first-inning deficit to win 4-3 on July 2 when the southpaw allowed three runs and nine hits in seven innings.
Hiroki Kuroda (12-10, 3.04) has done yeoman work for the Yankees in pitching at least eight innings four straight starts, but he's hoping for some run support while trying to avoid a third consecutive losing start. The right-hander, who has been backed by one run in those two defeats, was reached for four runs and eight hits - including two home runs - in a 6-1 defeat to Baltimore on Friday.
His lone career outing against Tampa Bay didn't go so well, either. Kuroda gave up six runs and eight hits while walking four in 5 2-3 innings of an 8-6 defeat April 7.
|New York Yankees|
|September 02, 2012||Curtis Granderson||Day-to-Day||Right hamstring tendinitis|
|August 27, 2012||Mark Teixeira||Day-to-Day||Strained left calf|
|August 22, 2012||Ivan Nova||15-Day DL||Right shoulder tightness|
|August 22, 2012||Ivan Nova||Day-to-Day||Right shoulder tightness|
|August 17, 2012||Mark Teixeira||Day-to-Day||Sore left wrist|
|August 09, 2012||CC Sabathia||15-Day DL||Left elbow soreness|
|Tampa Bay Rays|
|August 31, 2012||Sean Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Fractured right hand|
|August 28, 2012||Matt Joyce||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left forearm|
|August 05, 2012||Ben Zobrist||Day-to-Day||Left game - upper back spasms|
|July 21, 2012||Luke Scott||15-Day DL||Right oblique strain|
|July 21, 2012||Alex Cobb||Day-to-Day||Left game - right knee contusion|
|July 21, 2012||Luke Scott||15-Day DL||Right oblique strain|
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees are heading to Baltimore for a key division series with some positive momentum.
New York went ahead with help from a Tampa Bay error, Russell Martin homered and had three RBIs, and the Yankees regained sole possession of first-place in the division with a 6-4 win over the Rays on Wednesday night.
Eliot Johnson's errant throw to home plate that led to two runs in the seventh inning lifted New York to its fifth win in 15 games.
"It's a break we got," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Hopefully (the victory) just propels us to play good baseball."
New York sat atop the division standings by itself for 84 consecutive days - its longest streak since 2004 - until Tuesday night's 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay dropped the Yankees into a tie with Baltimore. They moved back into first place when the Orioles lost to Toronto 6-4. New York leads the Rays by 2 1-2 games.
"There's no question ... it's sink or swim time," Rodriguez said. "In order for us to swim, we'll have to swim the right way. We're going to start playing the brand of baseball we started tonight."
A-Rod had a run-scoring double in the fourth, his first RBI in three-games since returning from the disabled Monday.
The Yankees start a four-game series against manager Buck Showalter's Orioles on Thursday night at Camden Yards.
"Buck has them playing good baseball," New York shortstop Derek Jeter said. "They're right there. It's going to be tough for us."
Girardi said Jeter tweaked his ankle on Tuesday, but the Yankees captain said he is fine and that "it's a non-issue."
Andruw Jones and Steve Pearce singled to start the seventh off Matt Moore (10-9) before Jayson Nix moved the runners to second and third with a sacrifice bunt. Jeter, who had hits in his previous three at-bats, hit a grounder to Johnson. With the infield playing in, the second baseman's throw was off the mark allowing pinch-runner Ichiro Suzuki and Pearce to score as the Yankees took a 6-4 lead.
"It was the play that cost us the game," said Johnson, who made his first appearance at second since May 11. "You never want to be in one those situations, you never want to be that guy, but I'm a grown man, I can handle this sort of stuff."
Ben Zobrist drove in two runs for Tampa Bay, which had won four in a row.
"They're good ... they took advantage of our mistakes," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Two out of three is not bad. I'll take it. Prior to this series, I would have signed up for it. We picked up a game and I think we picked up a lot of confidence, also."
Jeter made a nice running, over-the-shoulder catch on Matt Joyce 's flare with two on and two outs in the seventh.
"You have to anticipate, and you have to have good jumps," Girardi said.
Rafael Soriano pitched the ninth for his 36th save.
After blowing a two-run lead, the Yankees went up 4-3 on Martin's solo homer in the sixth. He had his batting average climb from .199 to .202.
"I feel like I've been swinging the bat better for the last couple of weeks," Martin said.
Tampa Bay quickly pulled even at 4 on Luke Scott 's first long ball since July 19 off Hiroki Kuroda (13-10) later in the sixth.
After Rodriguez, who returned Monday after missing 36 games with a broken left hand, had an RBI double, Martin drove in a pair on a double that made it 3-1 in the fourth.
Evan Longoria put the Rays ahead 1-0 on an RBI single in the first inning. Tampa Bay tied it 3-all in the fifth when Zobrist hit a two-run triple.
Kuorda gave up four runs and eight hits in six innings. Moore allowed six runs and eight hits over 6 1-3 innings.
NOTES: The announced crowd was just 16,711. ... New York held a team meeting before the game in which Girardi said gave an opportunity "to talk about some of the things that we're going through." ... The Yankees are not planning to use a lot of small ball to try and help their struggling offense. "We're not the `Bronx Bunters,"' Girardi said. ... New York LHP Andy Pettitte (broken left ankle) threw 16-pitches in a simulated game and will face hitters again this weekend. ... Tampa Bay RHP Jeff Niemann (right shoulder) could pitch again before the regular season ends. ... Yankees 1B Mark Teixeira (left calf) could run on Thursday. ... New York RHP Ivan Nova (right shoulder) felt fine one day after throwing batting practice.