That's because a loss in Game 4 of the American League Division Series on Saturday will end New York's roller-coaster season, one which the Bombers hope will extend to Sunday in Anaheim.
Randy Johnson put the Yanks in a 5-0 hole early, then watched his team battle back to take a lead in the fifth. But Aaron Small and four other relievers couldn't close the door, as the Angels took an 11-7 decision to move within one win of an ALCS matchup with the White Sox.
"We've basically taken it one day at a time for the last two months," said Derek Jeter. "That's what we have to do tomorrow. There's no magic formula, we just have to go out and play good baseball."
Johnson's subpar outing came as a surprise to the Yankees, who had watched their ace dominate over his last eight starts, going 6-0 with a 1.92 ERA. But Johnson didn't make it out of the fourth inning, giving up five runs on nine hits, including a pair of home runs.
"Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get it done," Johnson said. "I was counting on myself to throw a quality ballgame. I had no indication that I was going to pitch the way I did today."
"When you don't hit your spots," said manager Joe Torre, "I don't care how hard you throw, it's not going to have a good result."
The losses in Games 2 and 3 mark the first back-to-back defeats for the Yankees since Sept. 1-2. The last time the Yankees lost three in a row? July 21-23 -- against the Angels.
"It's a disappointing loss, but we don't have time to evaluate and look back," said Alex Rodriguez. "Right now, it's all about winning one game and getting back to California."
Small, pitching in relief of Johnson, took the loss, his first of the season after a 10-0 second half.
"I got the loss, which I'm not happy about, but more importantly, I'm unhappy that we didn't win as a team," Small said. "I didn't get the job done the way that I should have and the way that I have been doing this year."
Johnson's troubles started in the first, when he allowed a pair of two-out singles, setting up Garret Anderson's three-run homer. What made Anderson's homer more surprising was that Johnson had held lefties to a .074 average with one extra-base hit in his last 13 starts.
The Big Unit served up his second bomb of the night in the third inning, as Bengie Molina drilled his third homer of the series, a two-run blast which put the Angels ahead, 5-0.
"I didn't think he had his real good fastball, and his slider was a little flat," said catcher John Flaherty. "He made some bad pitches at some bad times."
Johnson put the first two runners on in the fourth, putting runners at the corners. As Torre turned to Small, the Unit walked off the mound to a chorus of boos so loud, you would think Jeff Weaver had come back to the Bronx.
"If I would have paid for a ticket to watch me pitch today, I would have booed myself," Johnson said. "They've come to expect a little more out of me, and I expect more out of myself. Hopefully I'll have a chance to redeem myself in a postseason game."
Small struck out Adam Kennedy for the first out. Chone Figgins then hit a hard shot up the middle, but Robinson Cano made a stellar backhand stop, flipping to Jeter at second to start an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
The Yankees seemed energized by the escape, scoring four runs in the bottom of the fourth against Paul Byrd and Brendan Donnelly to pull within a run.
"Robbie made a great defensive play," Small said. "I felt the crowd getting back in the game and the momentum swinging back in our favor."
With runners at the corners and two out, Gary Sheffield almost tied the game, but Figgins made a diving catch on his liner to center, finally bringing the inning to an end.
"Figgins made an outstanding play on Sheff," Jeter said. "You ever see that movie, 'Multiplicity' with Michael Keaton? It's like they keep making a bunch of Chone Figgins and putting them all over the field. He comes up with a lot of big plays, no matter where you put him."
Small kept the momentum on the Yankees' side, retiring the Angels on just five pitches in the fifth. New York took its first lead in the bottom of the inning, as Cano doubled in Hideki Matsui, then scored on Bernie Williams' sac fly to make it a 6-5 game.
The Angels weren't going down quietly, however, answering back in the sixth with a pair of runs of their own against Small to regain the lead, 7-6.
"I wanted to put up a zero; it was imperative," Small said. "I didn't do it."
The Yankees had one more opportunity to turn the game in their favor, when Scot Shields loaded the bases with a pair of two-out walks in the sixth. But Cano swung at the first pitch, popping it up to left field to kill the rally.
The Angels plated two more runs in the seventh, then two more in the eighth to boost the lead to 11-6.
"I'm very proud of the way this team battled tonight," A-Rod said. "Being down 5-0, I think a lot of people thought the game was over. We came back, 6-5, but you have to give those guys credit, because they just kept battling."
Kelvim Escobar restored some sanity for the Angels, retiring the Yankees in order in the seventh.
Jeter homered to lead off the eighth, but Escobar sat A-Rod, Jason Giambi and Sheffield down with ease, moving the game to the ninth, where Francisco Rodriguez closed out the win with a scoreless inning.
Now, the Yankees must win on Saturday in order to play on Sunday. Certainly not the most impossible task, given that Shawn Chacon (7-3, 2.85 ERA with the Yankees) has been one of the most consistent pitchers on the staff in the second half.
"We need to win a game," Jeter said. "We can't worry about going to Anaheim until we win tomorrow. We've won one game before, so that's what we have to focus on."
"As an offense, we have to take responsibility and do what we've been doing all year," Rodriguez said. "We'll see what we're made of. I still think we have the best team in baseball, so I feel good about it."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less