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Yankees 6, Rays 1: Severino, offense roll, but AL East deficit stays at three

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The Yankees crushed the Rays, but still saw their AL East chances take a hit.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

This is a strange final week of baseball. The Yankees are caught in something of a no man’s land. On the one hand, they’ve accomplished their most important task of getting into the playoffs, and can start resting and planning for the AL Wild Card game. On the other, they can’t stop winning, and the AL East is still within reach. The division crown remained a possibility tonight as the Yankees beat the Rays 6-1 for their third win in a row.

The early innings were highly uneventful. Starters Luis Severino and Matt Andriese ran into little trouble during their first trips through the lineup, each managing zeroes through three frames.

Severino ran into the first jam of the game in the fourth. Logan Morrison reached on an infield single with two outs, and Steven Souza followed with a double. Unfazed, Severino got ahead 0-2 on Corey Dickerson, the Yankee Stadium crowd rose to its feet, and Severino pumped a 99 mph fastball past a helpless Dickerson to extinguish the threat.

The Rays didn’t need a rally, though, to break the scoreless tie. Adeiny Hechavarria led off the fifth with a solo shot to give the Rays a 1-0 lead. It was a bit of a Yankee Stadium Special, with Baseball Savant estimating Hechavarria’s fly ball had just a 15% chance of going for a hit. Alas, they all count the same when they clear the fence.

The Yankees struck back quickly. Jacoby Ellsbury led off the bottom half of the fifth with a walk, and Aaron Hicks followed with a single. Aaron Judge brought them both home by roping a double into left field. 2-1.

Starlin Castro made haste to extend the lead and chase Andriese from the game with a solo homer in the sixth. That was Castro’s second straight game with a homer as he’s showing signs of breaking out of his recent slump. Xavier Cedeno entered the game and Greg Bird followed with his own home run to make it back-to-back solo shots.

The hits just kept coming. Headley singled, and Hicks sent one over the left field wall for his first homer since coming off the DL. That gave the Yankees a 6-1 lead and plenty of opportunities to hold impromptu interviews:

That would be more than enough help for Severino, who ended his regular season in top form. He went six strong, fanning nine and walking only one while allowing the lone run on Hechevarria’s dinger. Just another great start in a superb season for the 23-year-old ace.

The bullpen was predictably effective in relief of Severino, navigating the final three innings without incident to deliver the game to its conclusion. The Yankees moved to 89-69, their high-water mark of the season. They kept alive the hope of finishing the season with a nice number of losses, and kept fans’ minds off the looming specter of a do-or-die, one-game playoff in the near-future by simply being so dang fun in the present.

The news wasn’t all good. The Red Sox won tonight, lowering their magic number to clinch the AL East to two. The Yankees are now three back with four to play. In other words, it’s not what you want.

The division race would be a lot more exciting if the Yankees had narrowed the deficit to two games, but all isn’t quite lost. Boston finishes their schedule with a four-game set against an Astros team that still has home-field advantage throughout the AL Playoffs in its sights. The Yankees basically need to win out and hope the Astros win that series in order to take the AL East. Highly unlikely, but, for at least more day, still possible.