NEW YORK (AP) — Red Sox-Yankees in late September — as sure a thing as exists for baseball's schedule makers. AL East powers, historic foes, duking it out for a division title.
Not this time. With Boston's iron grip on the majors' best record, New York is going into the upcoming series against its longtime rival with a rather mundane mantra.
"Trying to get right," manager Aaron Boone said.
Dellin Betances blew a one-run lead in the eighth inning, sending the Yankees stumbling into their midweek set against baseball's top team with a 3-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday.
The Yankees maintained a 1½-game lead over Oakland for the top AL wild card after the A's lost to the Rays 5-4. New York has a magic number of six to clinch a playoff spot after dropping two of three to Toronto. The Yankees are 7-10 in their past 17 games.
"We have to play better, clearly," Boone said. "We're not playing our best right now. But the history of this game is littered with stories of teams that went into the playoffs in different scenarios. Limping, playing great. The bottom line is you have to be playing right when it counts. Don't mistake that for, 'This is OK,' but I still believe at my core that we have everyone in that room to do something special."
New York opens a three-game home series against Boston on Tuesday afternoon. The Red Sox are assured of no worse than a wild card, lead the AL East by 11½ games and would clinch the division with one win in the Bronx.
The Yankees hope Aaron Judge can help keep Boston's bubbly corked. Boone said the All-Star slugger could return to the lineup during the series. Judge hasn't been cleared to hit against live pitching since breaking his right wrist July 26, though he's been hitting off a high-velocity pitching machine and feels no discomfort while swinging. The Yankees are 26-22 since Judge was injured.
"Sooner the better," Judge said of his return.
Betances (4-6) allowed hits to four of his first five batters, including a tying single by pinch-hitter Rowdy Tellez and a go-ahead double by Randal Grichuk. Betances has lost in two of his past three appearances.
"This one's on me," Betances said. "I take the blame on this one."
Toronto closer Ken Giles struck out Gary Sanchez with a runner on to end his second save in two days. The hard-throwing right-hander has 10 saves since he was acquired from Houston and 22 overall this season.
Lance Lynn covered five one-run innings with 80 pitches for New York, and David Robertson followed with two hitless innings for his longest outing of the season. That preserved a 2-1 lead from Andrew McCutchen's leadoff homer and Didi Gregorius' sacrifice fly in the first.
Betances couldn't hold that edge. He only escaped the eighth after a baserunning blunder by Tellez led to an out at home plate before Teoscar Hernandez flied out to center. Betances also struck out a batter, extending his AL record to 41 consecutive relief appearances with a punchout.
Yankees star Giancarlo Stanton singled and reached third on a two-base error with two outs in the eighth, but Mark Leiter Jr. struck out Aaron Hicks swinging to strand him.
McCutchen hit his fourth homer with the Yankees on the second pitch from Thomas Pannone (3-1), and Gregorius added his RBI later that inning.
Pannone faced the minimum over the next five innings, then stranded two runners in the seventh. He allowed four hits and two runs over seven innings, striking out six. The soft-tossing rookie left-hander was making his fourth start, including impressive outings against the Orioles and AL Central champion Indians.
"They ambushed him but I thought he was really good tonight," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "He worked himself out of it and kept the game in check."
Reese McGuire got his first major league RBI in the third with a double that cut New York's lead to 2-1.
Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez leveled third baseman Miguel Andujar chasing down a foul popup in the fourth inning. Sanchez caught the ball while Andujar slammed to the ground, though Andujar bounced up quickly and remained in the game.
Pitchers Justus Sheffield and Domingo German will join the Yankees for Tuesday's game. The left-handed Sheffield is one of New York's top starting pitching prospects but worked out of the bullpen down the stretch with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to prepare for a September call-up.
Yankees: Boone said Judge is "getting real close" to returning to the lineup. He's only cleared to run the bases and play the outfield for now. Judge said he's been "feeling good for a while." ... LHP Aroldis Chapman (left knee tendinitis) is set to throw a simulated game Monday or Tuesday, possibly with Judge at the plate.
Blue Jays: LHP Ryan Borucki (3-4, 4.26 ERA) starts the opener of a three-game series at Baltimore on Monday. The Orioles had yet to announce a starter.
Yankees: LHP J.A. Happ (16-6, 3.75) will face Red Sox RHP Nathan Eovaldi (5-7, 4.22) in a matchup of midseason acquisitions.
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