By Pete Caldera, The Record (Hackensack
---- — When he wasn’t breathlessly declaring that these were already playoff days, Alex Rodriguez was hammering the idea that the Yankees needed wins “like oxygen.”
At the same time, manager Joe Girardi has matter-of-factly stated that it’ll take something north of 90 wins to reach October.
And now after a losing road trip through Tampa Bay and Toronto, they arrive home at a desperate hour.
“We’re playing teams that we’re chasing for the most part,” captain Derek Jeter said of a 10-game homestand that begins tonight against Baltimore. “We don’t have much room for error, so every game is important.”
And every loss brings them closer to missing postseason for the first time since 2008.
“It’s been that way for several weeks now,” Brett Gardner said of the frantic nature of the Yankees’ late summer schedule.
But now the math becomes harder.
With 29 games to play, the Yankees were 5.5 games out of the second AL wild card spot heading into yesterday’s off date and 8.5 games behind AL East leading Boston.
Friday night begins a stretch of 17 straight games for the fourth-place Yanks (70-63), starting with three-game series against the Orioles and White Sox and a four-game set versus the Red Sox.
Of the Yanks’ final 29 games, 16 are at home. Of their final nine series, four are against sub-.500 opponents.
The captain hasn’t crunched the numbers.
“We just need to play better that’s the bottom line,” Jeter said. “Hopefully, we can start doing that at home. This homestand’s extremely important. We’ve got to come ready to play because (Baltimore has) got a great team as well.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Last year as a member of the Orioles, Mark Reynolds’ club challenged the Yankees throughout a nip-and-tuck September – when the Yanks emerged as division champs.
“I obviously played there for a while and still have a lot of friends over there,” Reynolds said of an Orioles club that lost to the Yankees in last fall’s Division Series. “It’s going to be a tough series.
“I don’t think we can lose many more games if we want to have a chance at this.”
A corner infielder by trade, Reynolds might be forced into his second straight start at second base tonight if Robinson Cano is still hampered by a bruised left hand suffered Tuesday night in Toronto.
After resting and receiving treatment for two straight days, Cano said he’d test the hand during batting practice this afternoon. But his understudy at second base could be lost for days if not weeks.
Eduardo Nunez’s MRI on his right knee was negative, and he’s day to day. In Tuesday night’s eighth inning, Nunez caught a spike on the artificial turf and twisted his right knee. He complained of additional soreness and stiffness during Wednesday’s pre-game drills.
If not for the injuries to Cano and Nunez, Girardi might have given A-Rod off Wednesday night.
Now, the Yankees enter “a tricky stretch,” Girardi said of balancing rest for his veterans while the Yankees play 17 critical days in a row.
As far as playing shape, Girardi said that Rodriguez might be “a little bit further ahead” of Jeter, since Jeter only returned from the disabled list Monday; he’d been sidelined since Aug. 3 with a strained calf.
But generally, “I feel pretty good about them,” Girardi said yesterday, when the Yanks completed a 2-4 road trip with a 7-2 loss to the last-place Blue Jays.
“Fortunately that one loss isn’t going to make or break our season,” said Chris Stewart. “But for us to get back to the playoffs, we’ve just got to start playing better baseball, get some wins and get back to where we need to be.”