BOSTON -- The clock's hands had already moved past midnight at Fenway Park, and yet many of the Yankees halted their usual getaway-day rush of dress slacks, sport coats and luggage bags to cluster around a high-definition TV in the ancient visitors' clubhouse, absorbing a surreal scene.
There were nods of approval as manager Joe Girardi's furious postgame remarks bounced off satellites and returned to Boston, and eye rolls were witnessed when Ryan Dempster insisted from the Red Sox's interview room that he hadn't intended to drill Alex Rodriguez on the left elbow with a 92-mph fastball.
Whatever the Yankees (64-59) have thought of Rodriguez and his ongoing battles with the organization and Major League Baseball -- and there have certainly been mixed reactions in his own clubhouse -- Sunday's 9-6 win over the Red Sox may have served as a galvanizing force.
"I'm not sure how I would feel if I was on a different team, but Alex is my teammate and obviously I'm glad to have him back in the room," said Brett Gardner, who delivered a three-run triple off rookie Drake Britton that gave the Yanks the lead.
CC Sabathia added that he thought Dempster's actions had been "bootleg," adding, "but Alex went deep and we won the game."
And that's what seemed most important. Faced with the possibility that they could miss the playoffs for just the second time in the last 18 seasons, the Yankees need to win every game they can, no matter the formula or the motivation.
In that way, the Yanks -- described as "resilient" all year by Girardi -- were happy to rally around their embattled slugger. Rodriguez stole the headlines with his sixth-inning revenge home run off Dempster, swearing a blue streak as he rounded third base, and said that he has received amazing support in the clubhouse and dugout.
|"We know that we're at a point in the season where we've got to play every game like it's our last."|
|-- Brett Gardner|
"Honestly, I had like 15 of my teammates come up to me and say, 'Hit a ... bomb and walk it off,'" said Rodriguez, who called his blast "ultimate payback."
New York's victory closed its gap in the American League East to 7 1/2 games behind Boston, leaving the Bombers in fourth place with 39 games remaining on the schedule. They sit six games out of the second Wild Card spot, tied with the Royals while looking up at the Rays, Athletics, Orioles and Indians.
"It doesn't matter. We just have to win our games, period," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, speaking in the empty visitors' dugout shortly after completing a 28-minute news conference to update the latest details of Rodriguez's saga.
"It doesn't matter about what we feel our chances are or aren't. I feel we're a better team today than we were at any point this year. We've got to take advantage now."
The odds, better than they were last week, are still not terrific. Baseball Prospectus gives the Yanks a 5 percent chance of making the postseason as of Monday, while CoolStandings.com calculates their chances at 8.3 percent.
Girardi invoked the 1992 movie "My Cousin Vinny" in discussing Rodriguez's legal process. In that spirit, the Yankees' situation reminds of the line voiced by Jim Carrey in "Dumb and Dumber," when his character was confronted with one-in-a-million odds: "So you're telling me there's a chance."
"I really believe in my heart, to be in the playoffs, you're going to have to be in the 90s when it comes to wins," Girardi said.
Girardi said that he does not want his players to be distracted by counting, but the rough math is simple -- to reach 90 victories, the Yanks would have to go 26-13 the rest of the way. There's also no guarantee 90 would be enough.
A simpler way to break it down is that it is crucial that the Yankees, who play each of their next 13 games as well as 30 of 39 remaining games against AL East competition, win each series -- as they did this weekend against Boston.
"We just talk about winning series. Just win series," Girardi said.
That hasn't escaped the players; there were excited voices in the clubhouse after a Friday night win over the Red Sox, calculating what might be possible. There were also hushed tones after Saturday's loss, with each defeat almost feeling like it counts double from here on.
"We know that we're at a point in the season where we've got to play every game like it's our last," Gardner said.
Rodriguez set the baseline at five runs per night for winning baseball, and the revamped Yanks offense has responded, tallying 60 runs over the past 10 games (including scoring 31 against the Angels in a four-game series).
"Our focus is, we don't have the luxury to give anything away," Rodriguez said.
No one expected Alfonso Soriano to continue piling up RBIs at a historic rate, but they loved riding the hot streak while it lasted, and new addition Mark Reynolds already made an impact in his first weekend with the club.
"Joe Girardi has much better weapons to line up on a daily basis offensively," Cashman said. "Hopefully we can somehow close the gap before the season runs out on us."
Getting back to their slugging Bronx Bombers DNA was important, but Girardi's season-long statements about relying on pitching and timely hitting hold firm. That may have been why Saturday's loss with Hiroki Kuroda on the mound seemed to hurt so much; room for error has been erased, and from this point forward, those are the types of games that demand victories.
"Bottom line, I don't think it matters who we play now," Cashman said. "We just have to win. Every day."