Blue Jays 5, Yankees 4
“I was thinking about today’s game. I don’t think about the consequences,” he said. “Now I have a good reason to be upset with myself.”
Vernon Wells hit a go-ahead, two-run triple off Hernandez in the seventh inning and rookie Brandon League escaped a bases-loaded jam in the bottom half as the Toronto Blue Jays rallied past the Yankees 5-4 to send El Duque to his first loss of the season.
New York (95-57) would have clinched the playoff berth with either a win or an Oakland victory at Texas. But the Athletics lost 5-3 to the Rangers (84-67).
Yankees manager Joe Torre knew before the game that a victory would have meant a clinch because the A’s (87-64) and Anaheim (85-67) have six games remaining with each other—meaning the most wins possible for a second-place team in the AL West or Central could be 95.
“I didn’t want to tell anyone. I don’t want to put pressure,” he said. “That’s clinching a playoff spot. We want more than that.”
New York, which led 3-0 on Bernie Williams’ two-run, first-inning homer off Ted Lilly (12-10) and Ruben Sierra’s solo shot in the second, wants its seventh straight AL East title. New York’s lead over second-place Boston was cut to 3 1/2 games when the Red Sox beat Baltimore 7-6 in 12 innings, and the Yankees and Red Sox meet in a three-game series at Fenway Park this week.
Trying to become the first Yankees starter to win his first nine decisions since Tommy John in 1979, Hernandez (8-1) let Toronto close to 3-2 on Russ Adams’ solo homer in the third and an RBI single to Gregg Zaun in the sixth.
He allowed a double to No. 9 hitter Chris Gomez leading off the seventh, and Adams followed with a pop fly to center. Williams appeared to get a late start, and the ball dropped for a single.
After Orlando Hudson flied out, Wells lined a high pitch into the gap in right center for a 4-3 lead.
“Are we the first team to beat him? Yes,” Wells said. “So it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Left-hander Felix Heredia relieved to face Carlos Delgado, who looped a high, opposite-field fly to left. The ball dropped near the foul line for an RBI double as the overshifted Yankees, who had been playing their infield in, couldn’t run it down.
Then came League, who made his major league debut a night earlier. Throwing pitches at 98-99 mph, he got out of the bases-loaded, one-out jam by striking out Gary Sheffield, who tried to check his swing, and retiring Williams on a grounder to first.
“A total adrenaline rush,” League said. “The crowd was so loud, I couldn’t even think out there. I got a little nervous, but then I got over it.”
On Tuesday, the MVP of the Double-A Eastern League final retired Sheffield, his first major league batter, on a tapper.
“I let him off the hook, a little bit,” Sheffield said.
Justin Speier relieved to start the eighth and allowed Jorge Posada’s homer into the right-field upper deck on his first pitch. Hideki Matsui then doubled, but Speier struck out Sierra and Tony Clark, then retired pinch-hitter John Olerud on a popup. Miguel Batista pitched a perfect ninth for his third save.
“You can’t be perfect all the time,” Hernandez said through a translator.”
Williams’ homer gave the Yankees six players with 20 for the second time in team history, matching the 1961 Yankees of Roger Maris (61), Mickey Mantle (54), Moose Skowron (28), Yogi Berra (22) and Johnny Blanchard and Elston Howard (21 each). … All tickets for Thursday’s 3 p.m. makeup game against Tampa Bay are $5, and hot dogs and sodas are half-price. … New York SS Derek Jeter made a perfect relay throw from Matsui in the ninth inning to get Hudson at third trying to stretch a double to a triple. … New York went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, scoring all its runs on homers. … Lilly beat his former team for the first time in four career decisions.