Girardi on WC chase: 'The opportunity is there'

Girardi on WC chase: 'The opportunity is there'

SEATTLE -- Joe Girardi won his 800th game as the Yankees' manager on Wednesday afternoon. The 5-0 victory over the Mariners in the finale of a three-game series gave him that pleasant-looking round number and even provided some lofty company. It turns out that Girardi joins Joe McCarthy (1,460), Joe Torre (1,173), Casey Stengel (1,149), Miller Huggins (1,067) and Ralph Houk (944) in the Yankees' 800 club.

But Girardi's reaction to achieving that milestone says a lot about where he finds his club after a road trip in which New York won four of six, taking two of three apiece in Anaheim and Seattle. The young Yankees, who are playing prospects and treating each game as if they've got nothing to lose, are still in the American League Wild Card race.

"Like I've said, I've been blessed with a lot of good teams here, so it's nice," Girardi said of his 800th win in pinstripes. "But let's get 801."

Not long ago in their schedule, there was an assumption that the Yankees were punting on 2016 and looking ahead to a bright future in which catching prospect Gary Sanchez, outfield prospects Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin and infielder Ronald Torreyes would get lots of at-bats as New York took stock of what its roster might look like next year and beyond.

But the AL standings after Wednesday showed that it's still possible for there to be October baseball in the Bronx. New York is 4 1/2 games behind Baltimore for the second Wild Card spot, and the schedule gives this team plenty of chances to make up a lot more ground.

The Yankees now go home for a three-game set vs. Baltimore that begins Friday. They take on the Royals, who are a half-game ahead of them in the Wild Card race, for three road games after that, and then go to Baltimore for three against the Orioles at Camden Yards. Thirteen of the Yankees' next 19 games are at home. And there's more, with 30 of their next 36 coming against AL East opponents.

"I think our guys believe, because when you think about it, we're [playing a lot of games] in our division," Girardi said. "And those are … a lot of the teams that we're chasing. … The opportunity is there."

Sanchez's sizzling start

And there's a lot to be excited about, too. Sanchez homered and doubled and now has nine homers and 15 extra-base hits in his first 21 career games. Starter Masahiro Tanaka threw seven shutout innings for the win and has won four consecutive starts. He shined a day after CC Sabathia was back to vintage pennant-race form, tossing seven innings of one-run ball in another win against a tough opponent.

Even Sanchez understands the gravity of the situation. While being mobbed by reporters, which has now become customary before and after games, Sanchez was asked about his torrid, historic display of offense and immediately answered like a seasoned pro who sees the possibilities in front of a team that's still in the playoff mix.

"The focus is not about me," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "It's about winning games here. That's where my focus is. Go out there, play hard and win some games."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.