It was late in the eighth inning when the Indians finished off a win against the White Sox. The Yankees were already in a quite a hole at that point, and the out-of-town scoreboard showed the Cleveland score. In the Yankees dugout, Joe Girardi noticed and knew what it meant.
The Yankees were about to play their first meaningless inning of the season.
“You know, and it hurts,” Girardi said. “… You can look back just 10 days ago or whatever it was when we won three out of four in Baltimore. We were right there. Today was probably a reality check for me. I knew it was going to be extremely difficult, but I believed we would get there.”
Blame the injuries. Blame the lack of pitching near the end, the lack of hitting in the middle, or the lack of just about everything down the stretch. Blame Girardi. Blame Cashman. Blame Sabathia or Hughes, Youkilis or Ichiro. Blame Cano for not running out of the box, Stewart for not hitting better than .207, or Jeter for never getting healthy. This was not a one-game problem or a one-man problem. There’s plenty of blame to go around if that’s what you’re looking for.
“I know they’ve all worked their tail end off,” Girardi said. “But I’m never at a point where I believe it’s OK not to have success.”
Now Robinson Cano is has only free agency to look forward to.
“It’s a really sad feeling,” Cano said. “Now you go home and it’s something that’s going to be on my mind, in my head and my heart, maybe until next season. All you want is to make it to the playoffs.”
Mariano Rivera has only retirement ahead of him.
“I’m not used to pitching for something that doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “I wanted to pitch for something that means something.”
And the Yankees have four days to play out the string before finishing this season of disappointment and entering an offseason of uncertainty.
“I always look at it as we didn’t play well enough,” Girardi said. “I always believe in my heart that you can find a way to do more. That’s everyone included. I said it starts with me, and I’ll never think any different.”
• Alex Rodriguez complained about his sore legs, which is the reason he came out of tonight’s game. “His legs aren’t great, so I pinch hit for him,” Girardi said. “… He just told me his legs weren’t great, and he was going to go take care of them. And I said, ‘OK, go take care of them.’”
• Certainly sounds like Rodriguez might not be in the lineup tomorrow, but Girardi said he will manage tomorrow fully attempting to win. With the Rays still in the race, Girardi said he owes that much to the rest of the American League.
• Brutal final start for Phil Hughes, who was pulled after four straight hits to start the third inning. He was charged with three runs in two-plus innings to finish the season with a 5.19 ERA. “It’s difficult (to pitch with confidence),” Hughes said. “It’s difficult when things snowball the way they do. Bad start after bad start, sure, you starting doubting yourself at times, and that’s difficult to bounce back from. Getting taken out of the rotation, 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 just didn’t seem to work out.”
• Hughes finished 1-10 in 16 starts at Yankee Stadium this season, becoming the second pitcher in Major League history to win fewer than two home games in a season in which he made at least 15 home starts. The only other one was Toronto’s Phil Huffman — must be something in the name — who went 1-9 in 16 starts at Exhibition Stadium in 1979. That’s from Elias. I did not know that off the top of my head.
• Kind of an awkward time to pull Hughes after the bad call at third base, but that was technically the fourth hit of the inning, and Hughes was getting knocked around again. Hard to be too stunned by the quick hook in the third. “I thought he had some unlucky bounces today, but at that time, I thought it was time to go to Huffy,” Girardi said. “They had left, right, left (due up in the inning). They got the one run after that in that inning. I just felt it was time.”
• It seems reasonable to think this might have been Hughes’ final appearance with the Yankees. “I haven’t thought about it,” Hughes said. “We still have some games to play, and obviously from there it’s going to be a long winter, longer than I’m used to being here. I haven’t really let myself reflect on that right now, but there will be a time for that.”
• Would Hughes like to be back with the Yankees? “Absolutely,” he said. “It’s all I know.”
• Although he was clearly frustrated by the idea of pitching in a meaningless game, Rivera made it clear he’ll be ready to pitch tomorrow. “I’ll be there tomorrow, hopefully, God willing, and (be) there for the fans,” he said. “They deserve it.”
• Said Cano: “That’s something I’m looking forward to: To see Mariano for the last time at Yankee Stadium.”
• This is the second time in the past 19 years that the Yankees have been eliminated from postseason play. They lost for the eighth time in 11 games. They’ve gone 3-6 against the Rays at Yankee Stadium this season, their third losing home season series ever against Tampa Bay (also 2005 and 2010).
• Final word goes to Hughes, who was asked if the Yankees should be amazed that they stayed in the race this long, all things considered: “That’s hard to say,” Hughes said. “You don’t really have time to think about it when you’re going through it. I think that you just pass the baton to the next guy. We pitched well at times this season, and scored some runs at times this season, and when you have games every day like we do, it’s hard to really think about those type of things. Now, looking back on it, I think we can at least say that we fought, and we fought hard with everything that we had to deal with. You can live with that.”
Associated Press photos