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September 16, 2005

Hope Lives
by Larry Mahnken

The season was over. Down 5-1 in the sixth inning, the Yankees were once again about to suffer an inexplicable, unacceptable and unforgivable loss to the Devil Rays, one of the worst teams in baseball. Regardless of what Boston did, this was death for the Yankees. At least 2½ games out of first, 1½ games out of the playoffs, with just 17 games left. To make it to October, the Yankees would have to play incredible baseball, or hope one of their competitors slipped up big-time, something that there was, and is, little reason to expect.

With the loss the Yankees would have lost 12 games to the Devil Rays, the first time they'd done so to any team in the regular season since the A's went 12-0 against them in 1990. But those A's won 103 games and the AL Pennant, and those Yankees won 67 games and Brien Taylor. Going 7-12 against the Devil Rays in '05 would be just as bad as going 0-12 against the A's in '90.

The comeback that saved hope for the Yankees was sudden and complete. A double by Matsui down the leftfield line, a walk to Bernie, a single to left by Posada, and the bases were loaded with nobody out.

And Robby Cano unloaded them, launching a monster grand slam home run to right field on the second pitch, tying the game at 5. 3 batters later, A-Rod untied it with a two-run homer to left.

And the Yankees held on. Tampa Bay loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but Mariano Rivera got out of it, and with two extra runs tacked on in the ninth, sent them down 1-2-3 in to end the game.

With the A's winning in Fenway, the Yankees moved to only 1½ games out in the East, ½ game out in the Wild Card, and their task became clear: match the pace of the Indians the rest of the season, and win the one extra game, and they get at least a playoff game for the Wild Card. Match the pace of the Red Sox, win their extra game, and win 2 of 3 in the final series of the year, and they get at least a playoff game for the AL East -- and if they pass the Indians along the way, they'd be the AL East winners if they tie the Sox without getting swept in Fenway (thus winning the season series).

Nobody has to slip up for the Yankees to make the playoff now. They're in complete control of their own destiny, and they don't need to sweep anyone to make it happen. That doesn't mean their task will be easy -- the Red Sox play the Devil Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays the rest of the way, and while they've struggled against Toronto, they haven't struggled like the Yankees have against the D-Rays. There's no reason to expect Boston to lose any of their remaining series, which means the Yankees are probably going to need to win 8 of 11 to keep pace. Doable, but not to be expected.

That was a bigger win than it should have been last night, but it was a big win nonetheless. The Yanks are still very much alive, after looking like they were very much dead a week ago, after losing 2 of 3 to these same Devil Rays. But they're not out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot.