Loss leaves Yankees' chances at miracle AL East title remote

NEW YORK -- The scores on the out-of-town scoreboard kept flashing good news. The Houston Astros were beating the Boston Red Sox, scoring early and often, running away with a game at Fenway Park.

In the Bronx, the New York Yankees had a three-run lead after four innings over the Tampa Bay Rays. It looked like they might move to two games behind Boston in the American League East with three to play. Catching the Red Sox would still be a daunting task, but not impossible, especially with the Astros in Boston. At the very least, they were about to make Beantown a little nervous.

But then Sonny Gray imploded. He would not last through the fifth, as he and Jonathan Holder would combine to give up seven runs in the inning, sending the Yankees to a 9-6 loss on Thursday.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi, with Chad Green unavailable and without Dellin Betances, chose to go with Holder to try to record the elusive third out.

He could have possibly gone to Tommy Kahnle or maybe David Robertson because of the urgency of the game. Instead, Kahnle and Robertson never entered because the game essentially ended in the fifth.

Girardi explained his decision after the game, saying with two outs in the fifth, he wanted Holder to get one out to stop the bleeding. When Holder entered, the Yankees were down only a run, but he instead allowed all three batters he faced to reach. If Holder had been successful, Girardi had a plan set up.

Girardi had hoped to have Kahnle pitched the sixth, Chasen Shreve the seventh and Robertson the eighth before finishing with Aroldis Chapman. What he really needed was for Gray to do his job.

"It was unfortunate," said Gray, who likely would start Game 1 of an American League Division Series, should the Yankees advance. "I wasn't able to go out and shut them down."

That rendered Girardi's plan moot, and the manager was left lamenting the Yankees' missed opportunity afterward.

"It's frustrating," Girardi said. "We had a chance to pick up a game."

The Yankees still can hope for a miracle, but their chances of winning the division are very slim. They are three out with three to go. If they were to sweep the Toronto Blue Jays, while the Astros win the final three games of their series in Boston, the Yankees would get a chance to play the Red Sox in a one-game playoff for the division. The reward for victory would be going to either Cleveland or Houston.

If they simply finish second in the division, go to the wild-card game and win that, their fate would be the same.

Even if the Yankees had won on Thursday, a division title was still a long shot. They didn't, and now it is longer. The Yankees play at 1:05 p.m. ET on Friday. By the end of the afternoon or evening, it might be over.