BALTIMORE - Soon, very soon, the 2014 Yankees' season solely will be about counting down the remaining days of Derek Jeter's career.
Sunday night's game was another devastatingly close loss in a season full of them, although, in reality, this club for weeks has been steaming toward a second straight dark October.
After Brian McCann homered in the top of the ninth inning to give the Yankees a one-run lead, David Robertson blew a save for the fourth time in 40 opportunities in a 3-2 loss to the Orioles in front of 43,947 at Camden Yards.
The loss put the Yankees (76-72) 12½ games behind the AL East-leading Orioles (89-60), who took three of four in the series. The Yankees are five games behind the Royals for the second wild-card spot. They trail the Mariners by four games.
"You want to be in a position where you control what happens," said Derek Jeter, who went 0-for-4 to extend his skid to 0-for-24. "Unfortunately now, we're not in control of what happens. It gets to the point now where playing well isn't enough; we need to win games and then we need some help from some other teams. Is it difficult? Of course. Even if it's up to you, it's difficult, but when you have to rely on other teams to help you out, it's not an ideal situation."
The Yankees have been in a less than ideal situation for a while, the reason Joe Girardi did something he rarely does: throw a reliever three straight days.
On Sunday night it was Robertson, who threw 35 pitches in the first game of Friday's doubleheader sweep by the Orioles and another 11 Saturday. "He's my closer and it's the time of year," Girardi said. "That's why I try to take care of them all year long because we get in September and sometimes you have to do that. He's been great for us all year. It just didn't work out tonight."
With an arm he described the day before as having "normal" soreness, Robertson fell behind Nelson Cruz 3-and-1 before he doubled into the leftfield corner to begin the ninth. Steve Pearce followed with an RBI double to left and, after J.J. Hardy flied out, former Yankee Kelly Johnson lined a first-pitch fastball to right-center for the winning double.
"I pitched like crap," Robertson said. "I left three balls up to three of the best hitters in the league. It was a terrible job by me out there."
OK, so only one of the hitters, Cruz, belongs in that "best hitters in the league" category. But with Robertson pitching with what likely was a tired right arm, all of the batters he faced posed a steep challenge.
For his part, however, Robertson wasn't using the third day in a row as an excuse.
"I felt great," he said. "[Girardi] came up and talked to me in the outfield and asked me how I felt and I told him, 'I feel good, I'm ready to go if we get a save situation.' I just wasn't able to do it today. I just stunk. It's not from how I felt, it's just how I pitched."
It was a sweet moment for Johnson, traded by the Yankees to the Red Sox July 31, then acquired by the Orioles a month later. "It feels like a first-place team," Johnson said. "I've bounced around a little bit now, and you just kind of get a feel that sometimes it's just meant to be. Things find a way to happen. You find a way to win rather than ways to lose."
In the top of the ninth, McCann drove Darren O'Day's 2-and-0 pitch over the rightfield wall for his 20th homer -- and fourth on the road -- to make it 2-1. Martin Prado homered in the second for the other run. But Robertson couldn't hold the lead.
It was similar to the first game of the four-game series, when Chris Young homered in the top of the 11th and Adam Warren blew the save in the bottom of the inning in a 2-1 Baltimore victory. The Yankees scored six runs in the series, four on solo home runs, and scored more than one run in only one of the 38 innings.
Hiroki Kuroda was brilliant for seven innings, allowing one run, six hits and no walks, and Dellin Betances struck out two in a perfect eighth. It gave him 130 strikeouts in 862/3 innings this season, tying him with Mariano Rivera for the most in a season by a Yankees reliever (Rivera did it in 1072/3 innings in 1996).
"It's really tough," Girardi said. "This series could have been completely different. We could have been in a completely different spot. We lose another tough one tonight and we just have to move on."
With David Lennon