For Yankees, end of season can't come soon enough

TORONTO -- The New York Yankees' long goodbye to the 2016 baseball season drags on.

The fat lady hasn't sung yet, but she is definitely clearing her throat for the final farewell, which unfortunately can't come before Tuesday.

That is because the Baltimore Orioles, the team the Yankees are "chasing," if it is possible to chase something from your knees, have a day off Monday. So, with an elimination number of two, even if the Yankees lose to the Toronto Blue Jays for a fourth straight time in the series finale Monday night at the Rogers Centre, the agony will drag on at least one more day.

“It stinks,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We’ve been fighting and fighting, and you think about some of these games we’ve lost, they’ve been really tough. We’ve gotten really good pitching performances. We’ve lost them in a number of different ways. It’s just been tough.”

On Sunday, the Yankees lost in a way they haven't lost in a while, by blowing a lead late in the game, mainly because they haven't had a lead at any point in a game in nearly a week. In fact, before Didi Gregorius belted a solo home run leading off the seventh inning to tie Sunday's game at 1-1, they hadn't even managed to score a run in 33 innings, going back to Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Florida, when it was still officially summer.

So in a way, that was the Yankees' first run, and later they had their first lead, of the season -- the fall season.

Anyway, it didn't last long. Girardi is right: His team fought and fought but ultimately failed, this time in a way that has become all too common -- via their bullpen, the one unit they thought they could rely on for most of the season.

After tying the game on Gregorius' home run, the Yankees fell behind 2-1 in the eighth, when a clearly gassed Dellin Betances allowed a run on a leadoff walk, a stolen base -- his particular bugaboo -- and an RBI single by Jose Bautista.

But New York came back to regain the lead in the top of the ninth on an RBI single by Mason Williams and a sacrifice fly by Ronald Torreyes, the No. 8 and 9 hitters in the lineup.

Had the Yankees won, it probably would not have put them into the playoffs -- their 9-17 start to the season most likely settled that issue back in April -- but it would have been their first truly stirring victory since that heart-stopper against the Blue Jays on Sept. 6 at Yankee Stadium that ended with Brett Gardner making a leaping catch at the wall with the bases loaded.

On that day, at least the illusion of life was all around this team.

No such illusions exist anymore -- and really haven't since a game in Fenway Park nine days later, when Hanley Ramirez hit a walk-off home run against Betances, and the Red Sox wiped out a 5-1 Yankees lead.

Their 4-3 loss on Sunday -- completed when the Blue Jays scratched across two ninth-inning runs, one on a squeeze bunt and the other on an infield hit, both off Tyler Clippard -- tore the veil off any hopes, however unrealistic, that were still being harbored by their manager, exposing the ugly reality underneath.

"Obviously, we’re not in a good position," Betances said.

Betances endured a sequence of events in the eighth inning that seemed to encapsulate all the flaws in his otherwise formidable repertoire. First, he allowed a leadoff walk to Josh Donaldson. Then, rather predictably, Donaldson stole second as the 6-foot-8 Betances uncorked his long, laborious delivery. Then, after failing to get a call on a check swing at a 2-2 pitch by Bautista, Betances hung a curve that Bautista lashed into center field for an RBI single.

It took Betances, who was making his 70th appearance, 26 pitches to escape that eighth inning, but Girardi sent him out in the ninth to nail down what promised to be a 3-2 Yankees win after the RBIs by Williams and Torreyes. But after Betances walked Melvin Upton Jr. to start the ninth -- after again failing to get a call, both he and Girardi believed, from home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi -- the manager replaced Betances with Clippard.

Clippard gave up a single to Kevin Pillar, with Upton moving to third, before Ezequiel Carrera surprised him with a bunt that scored Upton. Pillar was able to reach third after Clippard tried to flip the ball home with his glove, resulting in an error. Although Clippard struck out Devon Travis, Edwin Encarnacion's game winner -- technically an infield hit, because second baseman Torreyes flagged the ball down in shallow right field -- seemed like an inevitability.

The Yankees, who had temporarily regained their footing in late August and early September, had simply forgotten how to win again.

Now, it really doesn't seem to matter anymore whether they win or lose. They're headed for the same destination either way.

“It’s disappointing, obviously," Chase Headley said. "We worked really hard to get ourselves in position to make a run at this thing. This last week or so has been tough.

"Quite frankly, I didn’t think we played bad in Boston; we just couldn't close the deal. The last three or four games, we just haven’t done enough. We had opportunities all day to score runs and we didn’t execute; we didn’t get guys over, we didn’t do a lot of things. That’s just not winning baseball. It’s definitely disappointing.”

Judged by the standards of a "normal" baseball team, the Yankees overachieved this season, what with their horrendous start, their persistent lack of offense and their decision to shed some high-priced spare parts at the trade deadline. The fact that they even played a handful of meaningful games in September could be chalked up as a sort of moral victory.

But the cold reality is the New York Yankees, the self-described greatest franchise in the history of sports, will fail to make the postseason for the third time in the past four seasons. And with one game left against the Blue Jays and three each against the Orioles and Boston Red Sox, it is possible they won't even finish at .500, a fate that hasn't befallen them since 1992. They still need three more wins to avoid that indignity, and as we have seen, wins are no longer easy to come by for this team.

Still, the numbers are the numbers, and the numbers indicate that the Yankees are still in the playoff hunt, at least until Tuesday.

It has been said that the best goodbyes are the shortest. By that standard, the Yankees' long, slow and painful farewell to the 2016 baseball season has been anything but good.