It took 47 days for a 10-game lead atop the AL East to evaporate for the New York Yankees.
The next five could go a long way in determining if they even make the postseason given their recent struggles.
The Yankees set out to avoid a three-game sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night and desperately try to create any momentum for a critical four-game set that follows at Baltimore.
On July 18, New York appeared to be running away with the division, sporting a 57-34 record while leading second-place Baltimore by 10 games and third-place Tampa Bay and Boston by 10 1/2.
While the Red Sox are an afterthought, the surging Orioles and Rays have reeled in the scuffling Yankees to forge a three-team sprint for the final month of the season that could result in all three making the playoffs - or just the division winner.
Tampa Bay (75-61) further lessened the gap with a 5-2 victory Tuesday to draw within 1 1/2 games and helped Baltimore grab a share of the lead with New York at 76-59 after it defeated Toronto.
"A lot of people on our side kind of wrote it off when we were 10 1/2 games out, but I've been around long enough to know that this is a long season," said center fielder B.J. Upton, who homered for the Rays. "A lot of things can happen, especially with the second wild card in place.
"We find ourselves a game and a half out in September. There's still a long way to go, a pretty tough schedule. We know what's ahead of us.''
The Yankees have dropped five of six, with their usually potent offense failing to sustain itself. Robinson Cano accounted for all the offense with a two-run first-inning homer, but New York finished with six hits or less for the fifth consecutive game - its longest run since a six-game stretch Aug. 30-Sept. 5, 1990.
"The team is not playing good right now, but we've just got to forget about this game and just go out there and play hard tomorrow,'' Cano said. ''We're tied. It's time to start at zero. Just keep playing hard, and forget about what happened the past few weeks. Just focus on the game.''
Cano, who is hitting .382 (21 for 55) with five doubles and three homers versus Tampa Bay this season, is also 2 for 3 against Rays scheduled starter Matt Moore (10-8, 3.58 ERA). The left-hander suffered his first loss in seven starts Thursday at Toronto, where he allowed a first-inning two-run double and got no offensive help in a 2-0 defeat.
"I can't really get on a young pitcher who gives up two runs in six innings,'' manager Joe Maddon said. ''When you don't score any runs you can't cover any mistakes.''
Tampa Bay bailed out Moore in his only start against New York this year, rallying from a two-run first-inning deficit to win 4-3 on July 2 when the southpaw allowed three runs and nine hits in seven innings.
Hiroki Kuroda (12-10, 3.04) has done yeoman work for the Yankees in pitching at least eight innings four straight starts, but he's hoping for some run support while trying to avoid a third consecutive losing start. The right-hander, who has been backed by one run in those two defeats, was reached for four runs and eight hits - including two home runs - in a 6-1 defeat to Baltimore on Friday.
His lone career outing against Tampa Bay didn't go so well, either. Kuroda gave up six runs and eight hits while walking four in 5 2-3 innings of an 8-6 defeat April 7.