It was a 4-2 loss at Angel Stadium that helped make such a moment possible. Spared that exhibition, the Yankees completed a meandering 10-day trip to four U.S. cities and headed for home knowing that -- in all likelihood -- no similar celebration will await them.
"It's strange. There's no doubt it's a bad feeling," losing pitcher Andy Pettitte said. "You work so hard and prepare yourself for the season and, really, for October. It's definitely extremely disappointing."
The Yankees had spoken about needing to win most of their games as they reeled off a travelogue of more than 7,000 miles to Detroit, St. Petersburg, Seattle and now Anaheim. They secured victories in only five of them, splitting the trek evenly after completing the first two legs with three wins in four games.
"We needed more than that, and that's the frustrating part, because we started the trip off so well," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We didn't finish so well."
As Pettitte said, it was more of "the same old story," one that has grown too familiar. Likely as a result of his tumultuous offseason, Pettitte has spoken about feeling more worn down in the later months of the year, and his second-half struggles continued for another start.
The left-hander pieced together a decent start at Angel Stadium until the fifth inning, when Pettitte was touched for three runs and left trailing, en route to his fourth consecutive losing start.
"I'm a little banged up this year, more than I have been down the stretch in the past," Pettitte said. "It's still something that I feel like I can pitch through. I feel like if I keep my mechanics clean, I should be able to get through these games."
The first two batters in the fifth stroked singles before Vladimir Guerrero hit a fly ball to right field that Bobby Abreu misplayed, loading the bases. Pettitte got back-to-back strikeouts, but Robb Quinlan came through with a hit to left field, clearing the bases as Xavier Nady's throw sailed to the screen.
Also charged with a run in the first inning after a strikeout skipped away and set up a Juan Rivera RBI groundout, Pettitte allowed four runs (three earned) on nine hits over 4 1/3 innings. Since winning his first two starts after the All-Star break, he has posted a victory just once in his past nine starts.
"It's usually location when a pitcher struggles -- getting too much of the plate, not being able to throw the ball where you want to," Girardi said. "There's been some games that we probably could have won if we'd scored some runs as well. It's not like he's getting hammered."
Combined with the disappointment of the Yankees likely packing their bags at the end of the month, Pettitte remains undecided if he will pitch again after this season, though he has spoken about wanting to be part of the team as it opens the new Yankee Stadium in 2009.
After winning 15 games last year, Pettitte kept the Yankees on hold at the end of last season before finally deciding to come back on a one-year, $16 million commitment, using the time to evaluate his situation and get the blessing of his family. He may need a similar cooling-off period at the least.
"If you do come back, you do realize that, hey, it doesn't mean we're going to make it next year," Pettitte said. "It's a long season and people are going to get injured or whatever. There's a lot of stuff to think about, really.
"I think it'll be easier, especially when things are ultimately decided this year. I've never been in a situation where you can start thinking about it a little bit during the course of the season."
The Yankees managed two runs in the first inning against Angels starter Dustin Moseley, who issued one-out walks to Derek Jeter and Abreu, drawing a mound visit. Jason Giambi came through with an RBI single to right before Moseley balked in a second run.
That would be it, as Moseley finished after five innings, holding New York to two runs on three hits. A trio of Angels relievers -- Kevin Jepsen, Jose Arredondo and Scot Shields -- each hurled scoreless, hitless innings before the Yankees managed two baserunners against Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth inning.
Neither scored, though, as K-Rod struck out Hideki Matsui looking to secure his 56th save -- one shy of Bobby Thigpen's Major League single-season record.
Girardi used the ninth inning as an example that his club was still putting forth a good approach, noting that if the Yankees were rolling over, they would have just gone quietly against the game's best closer.
"Besides the fact we aren't winning, you can't say people aren't trying," Jeter said.
Now, the Yankees are placed in the unfamiliar position of heading back to a Yankee Stadium that will be sold out for each game of a 10-game homestand -- though the building, not the team, will be the real star. As the turnstiles spin this week for the final times, Pettitte offered a harsh reminder to his teammates that there is still work of a different sort to be done.
"If guys think we're out of the playoffs, I'd hope they play for some pride," Pettitte said. "I hope there's something to play for. We get paid an awful lot of money to do a job. I would hope that would never come into account, no matter how far out we are."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.