Yankees Avert Catastrophe One More Time

Yankees have clinched playoff spot, but the division race remains

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    It looks like all 162 games are gonna count this year.

    The Yankees are not a glass of water, but there certainly are two ways of looking at their 2012 season. 

    There's the half empty way, where the focus isn't on the fact that the Yankees have clinched a playoff spot but on the way that they have squandered a huge division lead in a relatively short amount of time.

    That's left open the possibility of playing a one-game playoff play-in game as a Wild Card, a fate that opens the door to one bad inning ruining everything you accomplished in the first 162 games. 

    On the other side of the glass is the view that the Yankees have never let that ticket to the playoff fun get away from them. There have been myriad opportunities for the Yankees to go totally in the tank and hand the division to the Orioles, but they haven't and they've responded whenever their backs have been up against the wall. 

    Sunday in Toronto was the latest example of that. Down 5-1 after five innings thanks to a dreadful start by Phil Hughes, the Yankees came up with a rally that may well have saved their chance to win the American League East this season. 

    It wasn't one overwhelming tidal wave that swept the Blue Jays out of the lead, but a series of little cuts that wound up as an eight-run gusher by the end of the afternoon. The Yankees would score twice on wild pitches and twice on sacrifice flies as they cobbled together runs without the home runs that have been their real offensive calling card this season. 

    Everybody pitched in a little bit to get the runs home. There were big hits from Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter, Eduardo Nunez had a run and an RBI, Alex Rodriguez worked a massive walk and the Derek Lowe/Boone Logan duo threw 2.1 scoreless innings to keep the Yankees close enough to make the whole big rally worthwhile. 

    It was a stirring rally at a moment when it looked like the Yankees were going to be looking up at someone in the division for the first time since early June. Those half empty types would point out that it took a furious rally to avoid losing three of four to one of the least fundamentally sound baseball teams in recent memory with a record to match, but it's hard to argue that getting the win wasn't the only significant outcome of the proceedings. 

    Baseball's not a game where the way you win one night matters on the next, so the Yankees will enter this three-game sprint with exactly the same chances that they'd have if Hughes had thrown a no-hitter on Sunday. They've got three games with a historically awful Red Sox team while the Orioles have to play in Tampa, a trip that featured their plane catching fire while in midair before an emergency landing. 

    That omen could be read in two ways as well. Either the Orioles are so hot that they literally caught on fire or that the Orioles' big dreams are about to go up in smoke. 

    Either way, we'll know before too much longer as this unexpected and uncomfortable AL East race finally reaches its final scene. 

    Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.