For this game at least, the New York Yankees still harbor playoff hopes.
Faced with nearly insurmountable odds, the Yankees will try to buck them for one more game as they begin a three-game series Tuesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
The Yankees (85-71) are on the verge of missing the postseason for the first time since 1993, ending a 13-year streak that does not count the strike-shortened season that wiped out the 1994 playoffs. One loss - or one win by the Red Sox - at any point between now and Sunday would mathematically eliminate New York, which avoided that fate Monday when Boston lost to Cleveland.
New York closed its venerable home park - Yankee Stadium - with a 7-3 victory over Baltimore on Sunday. The Yankees gave a fitting tribute to mark the end of the 85-year-era - home to multiple World Series titles - with great pomp and circumstance prior to the game, and veteran reliever Mariano Rivera closed the game out as he had done on so many occasions before there - with a 1-2-3 inning.
“It was a perfect evening,” said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who also thanked the fans in a post-game address.
Mike Mussina (18-9, 3.57) is now charged with the task of helping the Yankees avoid playing out the string as he attempts to match a career high in wins established in 1995 and equaled in 1996 while pitching for Baltimore. The veteran right-hander also has a chance to win 20 games since he will pitch twice in the final week of the season.
He was effective Thursday against the Chicago White Sox, limiting them to one run in six innings of a 9-2 victory to avoid losing a third consecutive start. Mussina has been reliable on the road for the Yankees, going 7-2 with a 3.53 ERA in 12 outings this year, and has won his last three decisions at Rogers Centre to improve to 9-8 all-time there.
Mussina’s 24 lifetime victories over Toronto are his most against any team, and he has split two previous starts against the Jays this year, yielding five runs and 13 hits in 11 2-3 innings.
Toronto (83-73) is ensured of its third straight winning season, but fell to 3-3 on its current nine-game homestand after dropping two of three to Boston, including a 3-0 defeat Sunday.
Jesse Litsch (12-8, 3.72) will try to extend his personal winning streak to four games for the Blue Jays. The 23-year-old right-hander gave up two runs in six innings in defeating Baltimore on Thursday, and improved to 4-1 with a 1.91 ERA in seven starts after being recalled from the minors on Aug. 14.
“Ever since he’s come back up he’s thrown the ball a lot better, he’s used both sides of the plate,” Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. “It seems he’s just getting better all the time.”
Litsch was terrible in two outings against the Yankees prior to being sent to the minors, giving up 12 runs and 17 hits in eight innings while losing both starts. He is 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA in five starts against New York, with Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon going 5-for-11 with a homer lifetime against him and Alex Rodriguez 4-for-10 with three RBIs.