With the Blue Jays winning yet again Saturday afternoon, it is full steam ahead to the wild-card game for the Yankees.
It seems as if the only drama remaining in the regular season, even after a 2-1 victory over the White Sox in front of a mostly reserved crowd of 39,134 on Saturday at the Stadium, is:
a). Will Masahiro Tanaka's right hamstring allow him to start the wild-card game Oct. 6?
b). Can the Yankees get on some semblance of a roll before then?
On the former, the safe way to bet is yes. The Yankees expect Tanaka, though the hamstring has healed slowly, to make one more start before then, with a game early this week the target.
The latter is a little less clear.
Although the Yankees, four games behind Toronto with eight games left, prevailed over the going-nowhere White Sox, their offense hardly looked like a unit ready to explode. Even as they have won two of the first three in this four-game series, the Yankees have scored seven runs in that span. But they were bailed out by Adam Warren and a formula they hope will be the difference-maker in the postseason: the lockdown bullpen triumvirate of Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller.
"We're definitely capable of swinging the bats better than we have been the last few games," Chase Headley said.
The struggling third baseman, in a 6-for-42 slump coming in, helped the bats get going just in time. Headley and another slumping hitter, Alex Rodriguez, hit consecutive RBI ground-rule doubles in the sixth inning off John Danks (7-14, 4.53) that turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead. "It's the difference in the game," Joe Girardi said.
That and Warren (7-7, 3.37), who was mostly outstanding in his six innings. The righthander allowed one run and three hits, all in the first inning. Warren, making his third start since being reinserted into the rotation, retired 16 of the last 19 he faced and escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fifth, striking out the dangerous Jose Abreu to end the inning after allowing a pair of two-out walks.
"Just really a sigh of relief because I created that jam myself," said Warren, who walked three in the inning. "But I was really proud of the way I collected myself and made the pitches."
Wilson struck out two in a perfect seventh, Betances pitched a perfect eighth and Andrew Miller struck out two in a perfect ninth for his 36th save. "It's 2-1 in the top of the seventh, you turn it over to your bullpen and you feel pretty good," Girardi said. "Not every team can say that."
A-Rod, in a 2-for-24 skid before his RBI double snapped the 1-1 tie, called the back end of the bullpen part of the "recipe" for potential postseason success. A similar dynamic helped the Royals make a surprising run to Game 7 of the World Series last year.
"I watched them. They did a tremendous job with those three horses at the back end," Betances said. "It was fun to watch. We like our chances."
The victory reduced the Yankees' magic number to clinch a wild-card berth to four, with a chance to lower it to three with an Angels loss Saturday night. The Yankees lead the Astros (who hold the second wild card) by 41/2 games and had a 51/2-game lead over the Angels going into their game against the Mariners.
"These games are all going to be great preparation for October," A-Rod said. "We've been playing a lot of tough games, a lot of tight games. We've been facing some really good pitching, and tonight was a good win."