"It's a really sad feeling," second baseman Robinson Cano said. "Now you go home, and it's something that's going to be on my mind, in my head and my heart, maybe until next season."
New York will close out its home schedule on Thursday, with all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera expected to make his final Yankee Stadium appearance in game No. 159, a 7:05 p.m. ET contest against Tampa Bay.
Rivera wants to take the mound one last time at home "to say goodbye to the fans," but he is having a hard time coming to grips with the reality that his farewell season will not include a trip to the playoffs.
"I'm not used to pitching for something that doesn't mean anything," Rivera said. "I wanted to pitch for something that means something. The fans, to me, are special. They are special. I'll be there. I'll be there tomorrow, hopefully, God willing, and there for the fans. They deserve it."
The Yanks wrap up the season with a three-game series against the Astros in Houston, where Andy Pettitte will make his final career start on Friday.
The Yankees missed the playoffs in 2008, their first year under manager Joe Girardi, but this does feel like unfamiliar territory. They were mathematically in the chase on Sept. 21 of that year, the finale at the old Yankee Stadium, so Thursday will mark the first meaningless game played in the Bronx since 1993.
"We didn't get to where we wanted to get," Girardi said. "It should fuel you for next year. And the way you play out these next four games says a lot about who you are as a person, to me, and what you think about this game."
Though the Yanks saw 20 players spend time on the disabled list this year, it still seemed they might be able to overcome long odds and play October baseball, and the patchwork Bombers held a share of first place in the American League East as late as May 26.
They had to lean on their pitching to support a lineup that did not boast much muscle, but after they added Alfonso Soriano in a July trade, they finally seemed to have both the arms and the bats. Then, late in the year, the pitching slipped.
Even as late as Sept. 13, Girardi believed the Yankees' chances were good, buoyed by the fact that they posted three wins in four games against the Orioles in Baltimore. But that road trip quickly went sour, as they were swept by the Red Sox and lost two of three to the last-place Blue Jays.
"It's a different story if we had all our guys," Cano said. "At the same time, you don't have to look for excuses, because it was close."
Though the standings said they had a small chance, the Yanks appeared to have accepted their fate even before Wednesday's game. Cardboard boxes were littered in front of lockers, and the hiss of packing tape dispensers echoed through the room.
"It's extremely disappointing," Girardi said. "Back to the drawing board."