TORONTO - Tempted as he might have been, Brian Cashman didn't call Wednesday night's game a "must win."
"Listen, I want it, I'll tell you that," the Yankees general manager said about 1½ hours before first pitch. "Someone's going to win tonight, but the season's not over today, either way."
But after a 4-0 loss to the Blue Jays in front of another thunderous sellout crowd at Rogers Centre, the Yankees' division hopes are all but over.
The Yankees (83-68) fell 3½ games behind Toronto (87-65) in the AL East. So start lining up Masahiro Tanaka for the wild-card game Oct. 6, likely at the Stadium.
Patchogue-Medford High School product Marcus Stroman was brilliant in his third start since coming off the DL, limiting the Yankees to five hits in seven innings.
When asked about the chances now of the Yankees winning the division, manager Joe Girardi said, "It becomes really difficult. You need help from the other teams where if you're one game back in the loss column instead of three it's a little bit different. It's difficult. It's not mathematically impossible but it's difficult. We're going to have to be almost perfect."
Ivan Nova was demoted to the bullpen last week but filled in for Tanaka as he nurses a mild hamstring strain. Nova was outstanding, allowing one run and four hits in 52/3 innings. But young relievers James Pazos and Caleb Cotham couldn't pick Nova up with two outs in the sixth, leading to the game's first run.
Former Yankees catcher Russell Martin put it out of reach in the seventh with a three-run homer off Andrew Bailey.
Nova had retired six batters in a row before Martin drew a two-out walk in the sixth. With lefthanded Ryan Goins coming up, Girardi called on the lefty Pazos, a Sept. 1 call-up. Pazos got ahead 0-and-2 before Goins lined a single to left-center, putting runners at the corners.
In came righthander Cotham, another September call-up, to face righthanded Kevin Pillar, who sent the first pitch back up the middle for a single that made it 1-0. Cotham walked pinch hitter Ezequiel Carrera to load the bases but induced a routine fly out to left by Ben Revere.
MVP candidate Josh Donaldson led off the seventh against Bailey with a double, and Jose Bautista's groundout to short moved him to third. After an intentional walk to Edwin Encarnacion, Bailey struck out Justin Smoak, but Martin swatted a 2-and-2 fastball for his 21st homer to make it 4-0.
After a 1-2-3 eighth by lefty Brett Cecil, struggling closer Roberto Osuna allowed a leadoff double to Alex Rodriguez in the ninth. But he retired the next three to end it.
The Yankees didn't have many chances, going 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranding six.
In the second, Goins walked with one out and went to second on Darwin Barney's single to left. Nova got out of it, somewhat fortuitously, as Revere lined to Greg Bird for the third out.
Bird became the first Yankee to lead off an inning by getting on base, singling to left to start the fifth. There would be no rally as Chase Headley extended his skid to 2-for-33 by grounding into a 3-6-3 double play. Dustin Ackley improved to seven for his last 18 with a two-out double but Stroman got Didi Gregorius to ground to short to end the inning.