NEW YORK — When the Yankees won 13 games in a row last month, New York could do no wrong.
Close games, offensive outbursts, masterpieces on the mound, it didn't matter. Everything was going the Yankees' way.
It was a surge that made a division title seem like a legitimate possibility. Washing away inconsistencies, the Yankees cut Tampa Bay's lead in the American League East down to just four games.
Now, that historic winning streak feels almost like it never happened, a figment of our collective imagination.
The Yankees lost 6-4 to the Blue Jays on Thursday night, capping off the first four-game sweep by Toronto in the Bronx since May of 2003. Since winning 13 in a row, New York has dropped 10 of 12 games.
Just as everything was going right for those in pinstripes last month, it's been the perfect storm in the worst way ever since. The offense has been inept, unable to score runs other than an occasional big fly, while an injury-ravaged pitching staff has either fallen behind early or been unable to hold onto leads late.
On Thursday, it was a mix of both.
Toronto jumped in front as early as the first batter of the game as shortstop Bo Bichette clipped lefty Nestor Cortes Jr. for a leadoff home run. Another solo shot from outfielder Randal Grichuk in the fifth gave the red-hot Jays a commanding lead.
Then, a two-run blast off the bat of first baseman Anthony Rizzo woke up the crowd at Yankee Stadium, tying the game at two. It's hard to believe, but that home run was just the fifth extra-base hit from a Yankee over their previous 51 innings on offense. All five in that span, touching six different games, came via the home run ball.
In the seventh, manager Aaron Boone brought in right-hander Sal Romano—who the Yankees called up from Triple-A before the game to replace an injured Jameson Taillon. In a big spot, Romano promptly handed the lead to the Blue Jays. A run off Wandy Peralta in the following frame put Toronto in front by two.
It's difficult to put into words just how much New York has missed Jonathan Loáisiga in high-leverage situations late in games since he was sidelined with a shoulder strai. Even a veteran like Zack Britton could've helped. Alas, both are on the injured list and unavailable.
That's when Andrew Heaney was summoned from the bullpen to pitch the ninth inning, a choice that garnered boos from the fans still in attendance as the left-hander was introduced. Moments later, after a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. home run and Breyvic Valera RBI double, the lead had ballooned to four.
Sure, the ballgame was all but over at that point, but back-to-back solo home runs in the bottom of the ninth made Heaney's two earned runs sting as the late life on offense would've otherwise tied the game.
Since coming over from the Angels at the trade deadline, Heaney has struggled mightily—to say the least—but Boone stood by the decision to use him in that spot after the loss. The skipper added that he needs to use pitchers like Heaney, issuing a reminder that this team has been up against it in the bullpen.
"There's going to be days where we've got to get something out of everyone," Boone said. "The bottom line is, like it's been when we started to play better baseball, it's taken everyone. It's taken all 28 and certainly that's the case right now. So there's going to be days where we have to lean on somebody else in a given situation."
You can't blame this entire stretch on Heaney, though. It's been a team effort to go from the hottest club in the sport to winning one game in a seven-game homestand against the Orioles and Blue Jays.
On this roller-coaster ride that's been the 2021 season, the Yankees have hit rock bottom before. At this point of the season, however, they might not even have time to show their resiliency and battle back.
With the loss to Toronto, the Yankees are now only a half a game in front of the Blue Jays, holding on to the second Wild Card spot by a thread. In other words, if they can't right the ship soon, it'll be too late.
Nonetheless, as has been the case all year long, Boone's optimism about this club didn't waver in the postgame Zoom room. In fact, his answer to a question about New York's playoff odds slipping away began with an emphatic refusal.
"Absolutely not. I mean, we just had a horrible homestand. It's not okay. We're pissed off about it," Boone explained. "But we've been through this throughout the season, we're up against it again and we look forward to going out and turning this around tomorrow."
Just as his manager expects this club to get it rolling, this team's on-field leader is confident as well. Asked how the Yankees turn this team around with less than a month left in the regular season, Aaron Judge said the most important thing is not to mope. This group needs to continue to work each day and get back to playing their game.
"We can't sit here and feel sorry for ourselves," Judge said. "We can be angry, we can be upset, but you've got to turn the page and get ready for the next day. Because the next team we're facing is coming after you every single day. That's what happens when you wear the pinstripes."
That next team is New York's crosstown rival as the Yankees prepare to finish off this year's Subway Series over the weekend in Queens.
Three games against the Mets is another opportunity for this club to get back on track, trying to catch fire once again. They may be in the playoff hunt right now, but the clock is certainly ticking and the point of no return is rapidly approaching.
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