New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi has given his side an ultimatum – to win every game between tonight and the end of the regular season to give Derek Jeter a fitting send off.
Girardi made his demand after the Yankees fell to a 4-3 defeat last night against Tampa Bay Rays, which pushed the New York franchise to 5 1/2 games off a Wild Card spot.
To make the task even trickier, there are three other teams in stronger positions than the Yankees as they chase Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers for the Wild Card spots. Cleveland, Toronto and Seattle all possess healthier season records but Girardi insisted there was no point on focusing on those around him if his team weren't winning.
The reality of the Yankees not taking part in the postseason is coming ever closer – a feat they have only suffered once (2008) in the past 20 seasons – and it would heartbreak for Jeter fans.
The Yankees captain is in the finale of his MLB career after he declared he will retire at the end of the season. As things stand, his final appearance will be at Fenway Park against the Red Sox on September 28.
Girardi’s men slumped to their third defeat in four games last night after Hiroki Kuroda was targeted by the Rays. The Japanese right arm lasted just 3 1/3 innings and leaked four runs before being replaced by David Huff.
Kuroda had easily settled into the first frame after taking three outs without a single hit but the Rays' bats found their rhythm in the second and took down the 39-year-old.
James Loney homered to right field before he collected another RBI along with Evan Longoria in the third. Ben Zobrist joined the party in the fourth which saw the end of Kuroda’s 67-pitch start.
Yankees still fighting
Despite the deficit, the Yankees made a spirited counter attack when Jacoby Ellsbury smashed his 15th home run of the season in the fourth.
Chris Young made his debut start for the Yankees and contributed a two-run single which saw the game move to 4-3 in the Rays' favour by the fifth inning and that was how the score would remain.
Stephen Drew thought he had tied the game at 4-4 when he charged at the home plate during the bottom of the fifth, but he was given out, tagged by catcher Ryan Hanigan, after an umpire review.
The Rays defence proved robust enough to deny the Yankees any further runs and they fell to defeat in front of their home fans.
Girardi’s demand for wins until the end of September looks a steep order, even for the superpowers from the Bronx.
The Yankees are scheduled for two more tricky series, one home and one away, against league leaders Baltimore Orioles, as well as trips to Tampa Bay and Boston.
If they are to win every one of their 20 remaining games it would give them a 93-69 season record and would surely put them in the driving seat for the playoffs.
A winning streak of 20 would also go one better than the current Yankees record of 19, set in June-July 1947, and tie fourth on the all-time MLB winning streak list.
Whether they can make Girardi’s wish a reality is unlikely, even for this Yankees roster. But with the retiring Derek Jeter as their motivation, the fairy-tale might just be about to begin.