NEW YORK—Red Sox-Yankees in late September—as sure a thing as exists for baseball's schedule-makers.
AL East powers, historic foes, duking it out for a division title.
Not this time. With Boston's iron grip on the majors' best record, New York is going into the upcoming series against its longtime rival with a rather mundane mantra.
“Trying to get right,” manager Aaron Boone said.
Dellin Betances blew a one-run lead in the eighth inning yesterday afternoon, sending the Yankees stumbling into their mid-week set against baseball's top team with a 3-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Yankees maintained a 1.5-game lead over Oakland for the top AL wild card after the A's lost to the Tampa Rays 5-4.
New York has a magic number of six to clinch a playoff spot after dropping two-of-three to Toronto.
The Yankees are just 7-10 in their past 17 games.
“We have to play better, clearly," Boone stressed. "We're not playing our best right now.”
New York opens a three-game home series against Boston tomorrow afternoon. The Red Sox are assured of no worse than a wild card, lead the AL East by 11.5 games, and would clinch the division with one win in the Bronx.
The Yankees hope Aaron Judge can help keep Boston's bubbly corked. Boone said the all-star slugger could return to the lineup during the series.
Judge hasn't been cleared to hit against live pitching since breaking his right wrist July 26, though he's been hitting off a high-velocity pitching machine and feels no discomfort while swinging.
The Yankees are 26-22 since Judge was injured.
“Sooner the better,” Judge said of his return.
Betances (4-6) allowed hits to four of his first five batters yesterday, including a tying single by pinch-hitter Rowdy Tellez and a go-ahead double by Randal Grichuk.
Betances has lost in two of his past three appearances.
Toronto closer Ken Giles struck out Gary Sanchez with a runner on to earn his second save in two days.
Andrew McCutchen hit his fourth homer with the Yankees on the second pitch of the game from Thomas Pannone (3-1), then Didi Gregorius added an RBI later that inning.
Pannone faced the minimum over the next five innings, then stranded two runners in the seventh.
He allowed four hits and two runs over seven innings, striking out six.
“They ambushed him but I thought he was really good [today],” Jays' manager John Gibbons said.
“He worked himself out of it and kept the game in check.”
Reese McGuire got his first major-league RBI in the third with a double that cut New York's lead to 2-1.