Yankees fall to Rays, miss playoffs
The end came quietly for this year's New York Yankees. No celebrations. No titles. No October baseball.
Curtis Granderson was batting in the eighth inning Wednesday night when the Cleveland Indians completed a 7-2 win over the Chicago White Sox. And with that, the Yankees were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention in the middle of the season's final week, even before they finished an 8-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
New York failed to make the postseason for the first time since 2008 and for only the second time in 19 seasons. Mariano Rivera will be in the bullpen Thursday night for his final game at Yankee Stadium — he'll be there in a regular-season game with nothing at stake for New York, rather than on the postseason stage where he solidified his credentials as the greatest relief pitcher ever.
''I'll be there for the fans. They deserve it,'' the 43-year-old said. ''But it don't mean anything. I'm not used to pitching for something that doesn't mean anything. I wanted to pitch for something that means something.''
Evan Longoria homered twice as the Rays won their sixth straight and lowered their magic number over Texas to three for clinching an American League wild-card berth.
Slowed by age and hobbled by injury, the Yankees (82-76) failed to claim one of the 10 playoffs berths despite baseball's highest Opening Day payroll, $230 million.
''It's extremely disappointing, and back to the drawing board,'' manager Joe Girardi said. ''It hurts.''
Since starting the latest run of success in 1995, New York had missed the playoffs only in 2008 — when the team bid goodbye to old Yankee Stadium. This time, the Yankees are saying so long to Rivera and Andy Pettitte, who are retiring when the season ends Sunday.
New York trailed by just one game for the second wild-card berth earlier this month before a series opener at Boston on Friday the 13th. But the Yankees have lost eight of 11, including three in a row. Before a quiet crowd of 37,260, they were eliminated from contention for a playoff berth on their own field for the first time since 1991.
''It's a really sad feeling,'' said Robinson Cano, the All-Star second baseman who figures to secure a nine-figure contract this offseason. ''The fun part of this game is playoffs. I'm really sad right now, and it's going to stick in my head, in my mind, until next season.''
Phil Hughes (4-14) allowed three runs and seven hits in two innings-plus, walking slowly to the dugout and looking up to the stands when he was removed from what likely was his final start with the Yankees.
''Just a tough way to end things here — not making the postseason,'' Hughes said.
A key part of the Yankees' 2009 title team as a reliever, Hughes went 0-7 with a 6.09 ERA in 13 starts since beating Minnesota on July 2. He is eligible for free agency after the World Series.
''A lot of good times. A lot of bad times, I guess,'' he said. ''That's the way life is sometimes.''
Reliever Joba Chamberlain, also eligible for free agency, didn't even wait for mathematical elimination to prepare for his departure. Before batting practice, he started putting his locker belongings into a large box.
New York started the season 30-18 and was in first place on the morning of May 26, but the solid start was not enough to overcome injuries to four All-Star regulars: shortstop Derek Jeter, third baseman Alex Rodriguez, first baseman Mark Teixeira and Granderson.
Sidelined by the ankle he broke in last year's AL Championship Series opener, Jeter didn't make his season debut until right before the All-Star break and wound up playing only 17 games because of recurring leg injuries.
Teixeira, who injured a hand while with the US team at World Baseball Classic in March, played in only 15 games and needed season-ending surgery. Rodriguez, coming back from hip surgery, and Granderson, the center fielder who broke a forearm and pinkie when hit by pitches, each played about one-third of the season.
In all, the Yankees have had a major-league-leading 28 stints on the disabled list by 21 different players, according to STATS, and have missed 1,461 days — more than four years' worth.
New York's home runs dropped from a team-record 245 last year to 143 this season — on pace to be the Yankees' fewest in a non-strike season since 1989. The departure of free agents Raul Ibanez, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin and Eric Chavez contributed to the power outage.
''At times we'd play good enough, but we just haven't been consistent enough,'' said spark-plug outfielder Brett Gardner, out since straining his ribcage on Sept. 12.
As for the Rays, Longoria drove in four runs and David Price (9-8) ended a five-start winless streak, one shy of his career worst. Price allowed two runs and six hits in seven innings with eight strikeouts and no walks.
Longoria hit a three-run homer in the sixth off David Huff, and David DeJesus hit his second of the season on the next pitch. Longoria homered in the ninth off Preston Claiborne, his 31st of the season and ninth in 18 games this year against the Yankees.
After it was over, the usually positive but now somber Girardi thought back to the promise of the September series at Fenway Park, when New York was coming off three straight wins at Baltimore.
''We were right there,'' he said.
He kept believing until he saw the final score in Cleveland.
''Today,'' he concluded, ''was probably a reality check for me.''
NOTES: Somewhat appropriately on the day New York was eliminated, it was Charlie Brown bobblehead night. . . . The Yankees put LHP CC Sabathia on the 15-day DL retroactive to Saturday and activated DH Travis Hafner, who had been sidelined since late July with a rotator cuff strain. . . . In a home plate presentation by Jeter and Rivera, Pettitte was given a framed base from his final Yankee Stadium start Sunday, signed by the team.