Yankees back where they started

NEW YORK -- The Yankees tried to kill their season, but it refuses to die.

They lost three games against their all-time rival in a punishing fashion, and, Sunday, they nearly went down again behind their legendary closer. Instead, they sneaked out with a win.

After Ichiro Suzuki sprinted home on the game-ending, ninth-inning wild pitch to clinch a 4-3 victory, the math is still good for the Yankees.

The Yankees are now 2½ games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the second wild card in the American League with 19 games remaining.

Do you remember how many games the Yankees trailed before the big, "make-or-break" four-game Red Sox series began? Two-and-a-half games.

Meanwhile, for all their troubles, they are only a half-game behind the Cleveland Indians and the Baltimore Orioles, the latter of whom they have dates with the next four nights at Camden Yards.

The Yankees might be failing up, but they are dangerous. They are old, but tough, with a DNA of winning, led from the back.

Closer Mariano Rivera is prepared to use all of his final bullets. This weekend, he pulled his pitching coach, Larry Rothschild, aside and told him he will do whatever it takes with retirement around the corner. If the team needs two innings, the 43-year-old Rivera told Rothschild he is up for the task.

When Rothschild informed Joe Girardi of Rivera's feelings, the manager decided to eschew his usual edict of protecting relievers' arms. The game of telephone led to Girardi asking Rivera to record the final six outs on Sunday.

Rivera had been off the entire weekend after Girardi rode him hard for three straight days during the week.

He saved a game on Tuesday and went for four outs on Wednesday before melting down against the Red Sox on Thursday. He had not recorded a six-out save since the 2009 World Series and not in the regular season since 2006.

Girardi said it wasn't a hard decision to go to Mo in the eighth, and you can't blame him for the desperate move. There was no real Plan B. With David Ortiz leading off the eighth, he could have turned to lefty Cesar Cabral for one batter and then went to Rivera.

Girardi's bullpen is very short with David Robertson and Boone Logan out. Both will try to return during the Orioles series, but without them -- and with Shawn Kelley having pitched the seventh -- Girardi could turn only to Preston Clairborne, the popular tandem of Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain or one of the no-name September call-ups.

"Mo was our best pitcher at that time," Girardi said. Protecting a one-run lead, Rivera delivered in the eighth, including an Ortiz strikeout to start things off.

In the ninth, though, Will Middlebrooks led off by hitting a ball that seemed like a fly out to right. Ichiro even felt like he had a beat on it. The ball kept traveling and traveling until it landed three rows deep in the right-field porch.

"If the wind wasn't blowing, it would have been a popup in front of me," Ichiro said.

Instead, with the score suddenly tied, Rivera looked stunned on the mound. He would say later he didn't think it was going out. But it did -- and the Yankees were on the verge of losing another one in painful fashion. Rivera finished off the ninth and the Yankees had last licks.

In the bottom of the ninth, Ichiro, a legend in his own right, danced around the bases for the win. He hit a one-out single off Brandon Workman, stole second and moved to third on a fly out to right. He would score on a high wild pitch from Workman. Dramatically, the Yankees had won a game off Boston and are right in this race.

With three weeks remaining, the Yankees basically have their fate in their own hands. Seven of their final 19 are against the Orioles and the Rays. They have three more with the Red Sox next weekend at Fenway.

The other nine? They are against last-place teams (at the Toronto Blue Jays, home to the San Francisco Giants and at the Houston Astros).

A team to watch in this race is Cleveland. The Indians have six more with the Kansas City Royals, who are in the race as well. But the Indians' other games include six with the last-place Chicago White Sox, four against the last place Astros and four versus the Minnesota Twins, who play like a last-place team.

The Yankees have been there, done that. That is probably worth something this time of year. The next week is going to be spent in Baltimore and Boston. If they are still in striking distance a week from now, watch out.