Last night, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, the last of those 10 games vanished.
There is no precedent for the Yankees blowing a big 1st-place lead. I had been led to believe that, in 1949, the Yankees led the American League (no divisions back then) by 12 games over the Boston Red Sox and blew it -- only to win the Pennant anyway. But this is not true: Their biggest lead was 6 1/2 games on July 15. That appears to be the biggest lead the franchise has ever blown, until now.
Freddy Garcia needed to step up for the Yankees last night. He didn't: He went just 5 innings, allowing the Tampa Bay Rays 5 runs on 5 hits (including 3 home runs) and 4 walks. This after Robinson Cano's 29th homer of the season staked him to a 2-0 lead before he ever took the mound. That is not a Pennant race performance.
After Cano's homer, the Yankees didn't score again. Aside from it, they got only 5 hits: 2 by Derek Jeter, 1 each by Alex Rodriguez, Jayson Nix and Chris Dickerson.
Rays 5, Yankees 2. WP: Alex Cobb (9-8). SV: Fernando Rodney (42). LP: Garcia (7-6).
To make matters worse, last night, the Baltimore Orioles beat the Toronto Blue Jays 12-0. Why can't the Jays be as pesky for the O's as they are for us?
The AL East now stands as follows: The Yankees (who have lost 7 of their last 10) and the Orioles (who have won 8 of their last 10) are tied for 1st. The Rays are just a game and a half back, 2 in the loss column. The Red Sox are 14 (15) back, and the Jays are 16 back.
Ten up. Now tied.
The sting is less for Yankee Fans than it would be for fans of any other team, because we have the 27 titles to fall back on. If a fan of any other team says we choked, we have the easy answer: "And what has your team done?"
Lots of teams have frittered away big leads, or given away Pennants (or at least a Division title) that they should have won -- whether with 1 game left, or a few, or even a lot. The Giants in 1914, 1934 (in New York), 1959, 1978 and 1993 (in San Francisco). The St. Louis Cardinals in 1935. The Pittsburgh Pirates in 1938 and 1973. The Cleveland Indians in 1940. The Dodgers in 1951 (in Brooklyn) and 1962 (in Los Angeles). The Philadelphia Phillies in 1964. The Chicago Cubs in 1969. The Chicago White Sox in 1977. The Mets in 1985 and 2007. The Blue Jays in 1987. The California Angels (as they were then known) in 1995. The Detroit Tigers in 2006 (although they got the Wild Card and won the Pennant anyway). And, of course, the Red Sox, many times: 1949, 1972, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1991 and 2011. And that only counts regular-season chokes.
Tonight, the Yankees send Hiroki Kuroda, their most consistently good pitcher in the 2nd half of the season, to the hill against the Rays' Matt Moore.
Anything less than taking the last 2 games of this series, and then 2 out of 3 in the following series, in Baltimore, is unacceptable.
Joe Girardi should now be managing as if his job depends on it. Because it should. But it probably won't.
I should do that list of Top 10 Yankee Managers -- and 5 Worst.