In the ninth inning on Tuesday at the Rogers Centre, the Yankees' hopes for a miracle were officially dashed. As Rivera worked toward the final out against the Blue Jays, images beamed from Boston showed a joyous David Ortiz donning swimwear in anticipation of a blinding bath of bubbly.
Watching from the dugout, Derek Jeter couldn't have known when Rivera buzzed a called third strike past Toronto's Travis Snider. But in an example of remarkable timing, it was the first out the long-time teammates witnessed for a Yankees club that no longer held playoff aspirations.
"Basically, it boils down to that we weren't good enough," Jeter said. "We had the whole season to get to where we needed to be. It's a huge disappointment. We put ourselves in a position where we needed a whole lot of help from other teams, and we didn't get it."
Since debuting with the Yankees as a fresh-faced 20-year-old rookie in 1995, Jeter has known nothing but winning in the organization, stepping in as the Opening Day shortstop for a '96 club primed for a postseason tear for the ages.
The final weeks of September have not always been clear sailing for Jeter's teams, but they have always doubled as tune-ups for October, the destination all Yankees clubs aspire to reach. Jeter had played in 1,983 regular-season games and 123 in the postseason before being shut out this year.
"We weren't consistent enough -- that's the bottom line," Jeter said. "We'd show signs of a good team and then it seemed like we were going the other direction. We didn't win consistently enough to put us in a good position, and that's why we're not going to the playoffs."
Faced with five September games on the schedule that no longer can help the Yankees' cause, Jeter said the taste is remarkably similar in its bitterness to an early postseason exit, another not-so-welcome occurrence of late.
"You don't feel better if you finish in second or third or fourth place," Jeter said. "You still have a job to do. Our job is to go out there and win games, regardless of the position we're in. But we're in a position where, regardless of what we do, we can't help ourselves."
Alex Rodriguez added: "It's really devastating. It makes you sick to your stomach. It's one thing to lose in the postseason and another thing to be eliminated in September. That's an experience that we don't want to have again."
Thirteen stellar summers
|The Yankees' year-by-year records and postseason results from their 13-season run as playoff participants:|
|2007||94-68||Lost to Indians in ALDS|
|2006||97-65||Lost to Tigers in ALDS|
|2005||95-67||Lost to Angels in ALDS|
|2004||101-61||Lost to Red Sox in ALCS|
|2003||101-61||Lost to Marlins in World Series|
|2002||103-58||Lost to Angels in ALDS|
|2001||95-65||Lost to D-backs in World Series|
|2000||87-74||Beat Mets in World Series|
|1999||98-64||Beat Braves in World Series|
|1998||114-48||Beat Padres in World Series|
|1997||96-66||Lost to Indians in ALDS|
|1996||92-70||Beat Braves in World Series|
|1995||79-65||Lost to Mariners in ALDS|
The timing of the Red Sox victory made for a strange walk to the infield for manager Joe Girardi, who had been closely watching the scoreboard in hopes that the Indians could prolong the Yankees' life for another day.
Instead, Girardi found himself congratulating players for a night's hard work, but knowing there could be no more.
"It's a downer, but in baseball, you've got to learn to get back up," Girardi said. "You start working last fall toward this and all spring long, all year long. It's hard. You use it as a motivating tool."
Of late, the Yankees had taken care of their end, knowing that they were dealing with an incredibly small margin of error and relying on a lot of help from outside their realm.
New York won eight times in a 10-game homestand to close out Yankee Stadium's final days and were 26 outs into downing the Blue Jays north of the border before the clock on their season finally struck midnight.
"The last two weeks, we've shown what kind of baseball we can play," A-Rod said. "It's just very unfortunate and frustrating that we weren't able to put stretches together like this more often. That's the way we should have played all year."
Girardi refused to play the 'What if?' game that can be so tempting at times like these, saying that it is fruitless to look back. But Girardi also did not promise that the sting of missing the playoffs would improve much in the weeks to come.
"I think it'll be worse," Girardi said. "I know the years as a player or coach that I felt we should have been playing in October, it's harder to watch. In 1997, we lost in the first round and I had a real hard time watching the games after that. I don't know how much October baseball I'll watch."
The elimination could not completely take the Yankees by surprise. They had known calculators were not their friends for weeks, but clung to hope because -- well, the alternative was too sobering to contemplate until it was cemented.
"It seems like one of those years we just didn't get the job done," Rodriguez said. "At the end of the day, it falls on the players that are leading this team. It's something we won't forget."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.