NEW YORK -- The Yankees had their opportunities but were not able to cash them in. That was the quick and dirty summary of Friday's 5-2 loss to Carlos Rodon and the White Sox, but it also could serve as an accurate wrap of their chase to reclaim the top spot in the American League East.
New York's loss at Yankee Stadium, combined with the Blue Jays' victory over the Rays in Toronto, dropped the Yankees to four games off the pace with nine left to play -- a deficit that is not insurmountable, but presents quite the uphill climb in manager Joe Girardi's eyes.
"I said it was going to be really difficult, and my mind hasn't changed," Girardi said. "They've played extremely well since Aug. 1, you look at what they've done. But we're going to try to win every game and see what happens."
CC Sabathia surrendered a pair of costly seventh-inning homers to Mike Olt and Gordon Beckham, but the bigger culprit was letting Rodon off the hook. The left-hander issued five walks and hit two batters, yet survived six innings, permitting only Didi Gregorius' two-run single in the fourth.
"It was frustrating," Headley said. "Give [Rodon] credit, he made pitches when he had to, but we certainly had opportunities. Disappointing, but you keep going."
Though Girardi said that no decisions have been made, considering the Yankees still haven't officially clinched a postseason spot, the organization has to at least be considering who it would want on the mound for the AL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser on Oct. 6. The Yankees enter Saturday's action with a 4 1/2-game lead over the Astros for the top Wild Card.
General manager Brian Cashman has said that, if healthy, right-hander Masahiro Tanaka would be his choice. Tanaka said that his strained right hamstring is healing, and there is hope that he will return to the mound early next week.
In the clubhouse, the Yanks continue to insist that they aren't giving up on catching Toronto.
"We'll come out and try to win each and every night until we can't win the division -- that's our goal," Headley said. "And then after that, it's get in the playoffs. Once we make the tournament, anything can happen. The goal is still to win the division, but we've got to take care of our end and we'll see what happens."
They can't pass on any more soft opportunities, but if they do take care of business over the remaining six games of the homestand, perhaps the season-ending series at Baltimore can be more than just a tune-up for nine do-or-die innings. They sure hope so.
"I played in Milwaukee and it came down to the last game in 2008," Sabathia said. "Anything can happen."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.