ST. PETERSBURG -- Some wins are better than others -- all things considered, Monday night's 4-1 New York Yankees' win over the Tampa Bay Rays was their best of the season -- but all losses are the same. All are equally bitter and disappointing and, when the final numbers are tallied up, equally damaging.
But -- again, all things considered -- Tuesday night's 6-3 Yankees' loss to the Rays was especially bitter, unusually disappointing and could turn out to be incredibly damaging.
For one thing, the Toronto Blue Jays, the team the Yanks are chasing in the American League East, lost to the Atlanta Braves, leaving the door wide open for the Yankees to move to within two games, practically close enough for Jose Bautista to smell Alex Rodriguez's aftershave.
For another, the Yanks were facing Jake Odorizzi, who gave up three home runs to them just 11 days ago. Two of his victimizers that day in Yankee Stadium -- Rodriguez and Greg Bird -- took him deep again Tuesday.
For a third, they had a wonderful chance to extend their 3-2 lead in the fifth inning after the struggling Jacoby Ellsbury finally had a productive at-bat, laying down a sacrifice bunt that gave the Yankees runners at second and third with one out. Alas, that fizzled when Didi Gregorius broke from third on a routine comebacker and was easily thrown out at home by the pitcher.
And to top it off, they got the tying run to the plate with two out in the ninth, setting up a second straight dramatic ninth-inning rally, only to see that come up short, too, when Brett Gardner flied out harmlessly to right.
And just like that, whatever momentum from Monday the Yankees had hoped to build off was gone, and so was a rare chance to put some heat on the Blue Jays.
The loser of record was rookie reliever Nick Rumbelow, who had put himself into position to walk away with a win after striking out Grady Sizemore and Evan Longoria in the fifth, stranding runners at first and third and preserving a one-run Yankees lead. But Rumbelow gave it all back, and then some, when he hung a changeup to Nick Franklin -- who had just come into the game replacing the injured Asdrubal Cabrera -- that landed deep in the right-field seats with a man on to give Tampa a 4-3 lead.
By the time Rico Noel, a professional pinch runner who should not have been sent to the outfield in a game as close and important as this one, was unable to make a diving catch on J.P. Arencibia's looping fly to short right in the eighth, allowing the final two runs to score, it was spoiled icing on a cake gone bad.
The impression left was that of a game entrusted to players who haven't earned that trust yet and, rather predictably, given away.
Joe Girardi knew he wouldn't get much more than five innings out of Adam Warren, making his first start in nearly three months, and Girardi was right. Warren gave him four and left with the Yankees holding a 3-2 lead on the home runs by Rodriguez (solo shot, No. 32) and Bird (two-run shot, No. 6). The manager knew in advance he would need plenty of bullpen help. He even rested his big arms with precisely that in mind.
But when the key moments of the game arrived, the pitchers were not Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller or even Justin Wilson, the proverbial "guys who brought us here." They were Rumbelow, who allowed two runs in one inning, and Bryan Mitchell, who allowed two more in two-thirds of the eighth. The right fielder was not Slade Heathcott, Monday's hero, but Noel.
This doesn't necessarily mean things would have turned out differently had those other players been in the game. But it does leave you scratching your head about what might have been and wondering about how many more of these kinds of games the Yankees can afford to lose. There is a treacherous stretch of road games coming up, three against the New York Mets in Flushing Meadows this weekend and a final three cracks at the Blue Jays up at Rogers Centre from Monday-Wednesday. This side trip to Tampa was supposed to be the easy part of the road trip, three gimmes against a team playing out the string. Now, the Yankees find themselves in the unenviable position of having to beat Chris Archer, who they have beaten just once in six tries (and never at Tropicana Field) to come away with a series victory.
As Girardi himself would say, that's not what you want. But it's what the Yankees have in front of them, in large part because they let Tuesday night's game slip away.
"It's tough," a tight-lipped Girardi said. "It's tough that we couldn't hold them down."
A few more like this and it will be more than tough. It will be fatal to the Yankees' hopes of winning the AL East and maybe even holding on to a wild-card berth. That's the kind of effect a mundane loss such as Tuesday night's can have on a team, even a day after an especially rousing win.
Can't buy a hit: Ellsbury, whose average is now down to .251 -- he is hitting .207 since returning from the DL on July 8 -- went hitless in four more at-bats and is now 0 for his last 25. But he nearly had a big hit in the ninth when his grounder got past James Loney and up the right-field line, putting him on second and moving pinch hitter Dustin Ackley to third. But the play was (rightfully) scored an error, although Ellsbury admitted he wouldn't have minded some more generous scoring, if only to boost his plate morale.
"Obviously it would have been nice," he said. "But it’s same result, it brought the winning (sic) run to the plate in the ninth and gave us a chance."
Asked if he thought a day or two off to clear his head might help, Ellsbury said, "I feel I'm an everyday player. You just have to find a way to have success. That's what I've been throughout my career. You go through spells but you continue to work hard and put the time in. The guys that do that typically have results."
Girardi: No, in-Didi: Asked if Gregorius had made a baserunning mistake by trying to score on the comebacker in the fifth, the manager bit off a one-word answer: "Yes."
He didn't say anything else. He didn't need to.
A-Rod knee-ds no help: Rodriguez did not appear in the postgame clubhouse, but his first-inning home run and his hustle on the bases -- he took off on four straight two-out, 3-2 pitches to Bird just before Bird's home run in the fourth -- seemed to indicate he was suffering no ill-effects from the bone bruise on his left knee. Said Girardi: "He's fine."