For the Yankees, the verdict on their 2018 season might be the result of a single game — one that is not yet on their schedule. That is, if they play in it at all.
“It’s all hands on deck for that one game,” General Manager Brian Cashman said, “and we’ve got to find a way to survive it.”
Cashman was referring to the American League wild card play-in game scheduled for Oct. 3 — possibly against the Oakland Athletics and quite possibly at Yankee Stadium. He called the game “a cage match.”
But as the Yankees struggled on Friday night to beat the Baltimore Orioles, now losers of a franchise-record 109 games, they hardly looked ready to survive a brawl of a postseason game.
The Yankees’ bullpen, formerly a strength, took over in the seventh and twice allowed the Orioles back into a game that looked out of hand, first at 6-0, then at 9-4. Most disturbing was a four-run eighth-inning, in which A. J. Cole and David Robertson each surrendered a two-run homer, turning a laugher into a one-run game.
The Yankees held on to win, 10-8, but after getting six solid innings from starter C. C. Sabathia, Manager Aaron Boone needed six pitchers to get the final nine outs of the game.
“You got to be able to piece it together at times,” Boone said. “Tonight wasn’t a great night for us in that regard, but I’m not overly concerned.”
The wild-card game became the Yankees’ focus when their hopes of overtaking the Boston Red Sox in the American League East died Thursday night in an 11-6 loss that clinched the division for Boston.
After Friday’s victory, the Yankees’ lead over Oakland in the wild-card standings stood at two games, pending the outcome of the A’s late game against the Minnesota Twins.
“We’ve got to punch our ticket into the playoffs,” Cashman said before the game, “and we’ve got to punch our ticket to play it at home. Win that game, and then you’re dreaming big things.”
The game against the Orioles did not suggest that this team can finish in glory.
The Yankees got a two-run homer from Didi Gregorius, his 27th blast of the season, in the first inning, another two-run homer from Aaron Hicks, his 25th, in the fourth, and a two-run single in the seventh from Luke Voit, who has 24 runs batted in over 31 games.
But the Orioles kept chipping away, cutting the lead to 6-4 on a two-run homer by Austin Wynns in the seventh and to 9-8 on home runs by Renato Nunez and D. J. Stewart in the eighth. Dellin Betances allowed a ninth-inning single but nailed down the final two outs for the save.
“Obviously, we’ve got to finish things off here in the regular season because want to be the wild-card home team,” Cashman said. “We want to find our stride as we enter October so we can be everything we hope we can be.”
Boone expressed optimism about the recent return of Aaron Judge, who had two hits and an R.B.I double Friday, and of closer Aroldis Chapman from the disabled list.
“Obviously, these games are really important,” Boone said. “And now that we’re whole we feel like we have really good options to run out there every day.”
Cashman and Boone have some difficult decisions to make if the Yankees reach the wild card game — none more difficult than who will start the game. Currently, J. A. Happ, the Yankees’ most reliable pitcher of the second half, is scheduled to make his final regular-season start on Sept. 28 in Boston. That would give him a normal rest period before the wild-card game.
But pitching that game would also limit Happ, who is 7-4 with a 2.82 earned run average in 19 career starts against Boston, to one appearance in a potential Yankees-Red Sox division series. Boone said Happ’s success against Boston would have little bearing on whom he chooses to start the wild-card game.
“We’ll pour everything into that game and what gives us the best chance to win it is ultimately what the decision is going to come down to,” Boone said. “It’s all about winning that game. “
Before the game, the Yankees announced the creation of the Yankees-Stonewall Scholars Initiative, a scholarship fund in commemoration of the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall uprising, which is widely considered a turning point in the gay liberation movement. The initiative will award five $10,000 college scholarships to graduating seniors from New York City public schools who have demonstrated academic achievement as well as support for the LGBTQ community.