Officially eliminated, the Yankees can play spoiler to the Orioles' season

NEW YORK -- When the Baltimore Orioles honored David Ortiz last week, they chose to put together a montage of Big Papi's greatest moments against the New York Yankees. They reasoned that it was something both teams' fans could enjoy.

Well, the Yankees are in the process of returning the favor. While they were officially eliminated on Thursday, they completed a sweep of the Boston Red Sox, harming Boston's chances to have overall home-field advantage and possibly in the divisional round against Cleveland as well. Next up, the Orioles are in the Bronx for the final three games of the season.

The Orioles eliminated the Yankees on Thursday with their win over the Toronto Blue Jays; now the Yankees can ruin Baltimore's season. The Orioles are tied for the wild-card lead, but the Detroit Tigers are just 1.5 games back. The Tigers are in Atlanta this weekend, then would make-up a game with the Cleveland Indians on Monday if necessary. So Baltimore needs to win.

The idea the Yankees weren't making the playoffs already was a foregone conclusion, save for the mathematics. They have been a streaky team this year, but have done enough in the second half, led by Gary Sanchez, to give themselves optimism for 2017.

In the grand scheme of their history, 2016 might go down as a pivotal year, like 1994 and 1995 were, leading into the Core Four glory days.

"It's not what we wanted," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after addressing his team in the post-win locker room. "It is pretty quiet in there. It is probably the quietest I've ever seen after a win, in a sense. I think guys realize it came to an end tonight. It is difficult. There were good things that happened, but in the end we fell short. We didn't have a successful season."

For the here and now, the Yankees did some damage to their rivals. The Red Sox arrived in the Bronx with an 11-game winning steak and with a real chance at the AL's top seed. They left on Thursday night losers of three straight.

Boston did clinch the AL East during their stay, but even their celebration was slightly muted because of Mark Teixeira's walk-off grand slam Wednesday.

On Thursday, CC Sabathia finished off a pretty impressive comeback year with a 7 1/3 inning, one-run performance. A little after the Yankees feted David Ortiz, Sabathia struck out Big Papi in the second inning, momentarily quieting the numerous Red Sox fans in the stands.

With the Yankees officially eliminated during their game, Girardi let Sabathia pitch to one batter in the eighth. After an out, Sabathia received a nice hand coming off the mound. Since Sabathia didn't hurt his shoulder this year, a $25 million vesting option for 2017 will kick in. The Yankees will be happy to have him back -- and Sabathia sees clearer skies ahead for a franchise that has missed the playoffs three of the last four years.

"The future looks bright," Sabathia said.

Sabathia was one of the bright spots for the Yankees this season. He lowered his ERA to 3.91, which produced a 9-12 record.

The Yankees could never overcome a 9-17 start. They climbed to a game off the wild card at one point, but the task was too steep.

"It is extremely frustrating," Girardi said. "This is hard because we work a long time to try to get to the postseason and win championships. When you fall short, you realize there is a ton of work to start over again. It is really, really difficult."

Girardi doesn't plan to make it much easier for the Orioles. He is unsure if Masahiro Tanaka will start Saturday, and he doesn't know if he will play all his regulars the whole weekend, but he plans on starting most of them.

The Yankees don't like being spoilers, but it is all they have left for 2016.

"I only think about one thing, winning World Series, that's all I think about," Girardi said. "When you don't make the playoffs, when you don't even get a chance, it is hard."

Now it is over, but they could ruin the Orioles' chances as well.