Several scenarios at play, but a victory would give New York top AL Wild Card spot
By Barry M. Bloom
BALTIMORE -- It wasn't supposed to come down to the final day of the regular season for the Yankees, but that's the way it's played out.
As has been the case all weekend, a win against the Orioles on Sunday at Camden Yards makes it all very simple. In that case, the Yanks will host the American League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium against the Astros, Angels or Rangers. Lose, and they'll need some help. The D-backs would have to defeat the Astros in Phoenix to ensure home field for New York.
The Yankees secured a spot in the AL Wild Card Game with a victory over Boston in the home series finale on Thursday night. Losers of five of their last six at the worst time of year, the Yanks have Michael Pineda going against Baltimore's Chris Tillman.
If the Yanks lose and the Astros win, the combinations are mind-boggling.
"It's kind of been like this all year," Yanks manager Joe Girardi said after his club dropped a day-night doubleheader to the Orioles, 9-2 in the first game and 4-3 in the nightcap. "We've been up and down, but we've always seemed to bounce back when we need to bounce back so we've got to do it tomorrow."
Because of the Angels' stunning come-from-behind ninth-inning win over the Rangers at Texas on Saturday, there are several scenarios that now could have a profound effect on the Yankees.
If the Rangers defeat the Angels, they will win the AL West with an 88-74 record no matter what Houston does. If the Astros win and the Yankees lose, they'll both finish at 87-75, but the Astros will host the Wild Card Game at Minute Maid Park because they were 4-3 vs. the Yankees during the regular season.
If the Astros win, the Angels beat the Rangers and the Yankees lose, the Angels are out with an 86-76 record. Houston, Texas and New York all would finish at 87-75. The Astros would play a one-game playoff against the Rangers on Monday to decide the West. That game would be at Texas, because the Rangers won the season series, 13-6.
The winner of that game will move on to an AL Division Series. The loser would host the Wild Card Game against the Yankees. The Rangers also won the season series against the Yankees, 5-2.
If the Angels defeat the Rangers and the Astros lose, it doesn't matter what the Yankees do. The Rangers would still win the AL West, but the Angels and Astros would both finish with an 86-76 record. Those two teams would play game No. 163 on Monday to determine the second AL Wild Card berth. The winner would play the Yankees in New York and the loser would be eliminated.
It should be noted that even though a Monday tiebreaker (Game 163) is technically a regular-season game, it does not affect the standings as far as tiebreakers go. Therefore, if the Rangers, Astros and Yankees all finish Sunday at 87-75, and the Rangers and Astros have to play a tiebreaker game on Monday for the AL West title, the loser of that game would still host the Wild Card Game by virtue of a head-to-head record against the Yankees, even though their record in the standings would be 87-76, seemingly a half-game behind New York. In other words, they aren't penalized for having to play an extra game.
Girardi said he was well aware of all these scenarios and that Sunday was no time for pep talks or clubhouse speeches.
"I think you have to have your head in the sand not to know what we need to do," Girardi said. "We need to win."
Unlike Saturday, all hands are on deck for the Yankees in Sunday's game. Girardi didn't want to play his regulars in both games of the doubleheader, and he said beforehand that he was reluctant to use reliever Dellin Betances. But in the end, Betances pitched and Girardi played third baseman Chase Headley (back) for the entire first game and brought him back to pinch-hit in the sixth inning of the second game. Headley played in the field for the rest of the contest.
"I've been trying to keep my guys healthy all week, and it's been a juggling act," Girardi said. "But then we got to the sixth inning and I just went for it."
Betances pitched the eighth in relief of Luis Severino in the nightcap and uncorked the wild pitch that allowed O's shortstop Paul Janish to score the winning run.
Girardi said he wasn't sure of Betances' availability on Sunday, but the right-hander said after the game that he felt fresh and would be able to pitch. Headley said his back felt fine and he was ready to go.
"Look, this time of year everyone is beat up, everybody's worn down," Headley said. "Split doubleheaders are tough, but I think guys realize you have to come in if the situation arises."
And the mindset for Sunday?
"The same," Headley said. "Just come in and win a game."