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Yanks playing key role in wild-card hunt, but seem oblivious to it


The first-place Yankees go about their business, seemingly uninterested in who finishes second. (US Presswire)  
The first-place Yankees go about their business, seemingly uninterested in who finishes second. (US Presswire)  

NEW YORK -- Everything seems so simple here.

So relaxed.

The Rays are playing well? Oh, OK. The Red Sox are collapsing? Oh, well.

The Yankees could help the Red Sox by beating the Rays?

"I'm not thinking about it," Derek Jeter said, with absolutely no hint of emotion. "I'm not watching the scoreboard."

He couldn't watch the clubhouse television, either, because after the Yankees' 5-0 victory against the Rays on Tuesday night, every one of those TVs was tuned to manager Joe Girardi's postgame press conference, rather than to the end of the latest Boston debacle.

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The victory cut the Yankees' magic number to clinch a playoff spot to two, and Boston's loss to Baltimore cut New York's magic number for clinching the American League East to three.

But even a Yankees official wasn't sure of the exact number, checking on it with a couple of reporters.

It just doesn't feel that important. It just doesn't feel that urgent.

They'll win. They'll celebrate. They'll get ready for the playoffs to begin.

And the only thing that makes it odd is that while they're doing all that, they'll play a huge part in deciding who goes to the playoffs with them.

The Yankees helped the Red Sox by winning Tuesday. They could help them more in three more games against the Rays this week.

Then the Yankees will play three games against the Red Sox. And then three more, to finish the season, against the Rays.

What they do will determine in large part whether the Red Sox miss the playoffs and complete an embarrassing collapse.

Good luck getting them to say they care.

"Doesn't matter," Mariano Rivera said. "But I definitely know [the Red Sox] are pulling for us."

"I'm cheering for our club," Girardi said. "That's who I'm cheering for."

And unlike last September, when Girardi's decisions gave the impression that the Yankees didn't want to win the division, he clearly has been trying to win every game down the stretch this year.

He started his regular lineup Tuesday night, and was ready to call on setup man Rafael Soriano in the seventh inning, even though Soriano had pitched five of the previous seven days. As it turned out, Soriano wasn't needed, because starter Ivan Nova got B.J. Upton to ground into an inning-ending double play.

A few minutes after that, Robert Andino's three-run double at Fenway Park put the Orioles ahead of the Red Sox. There was little reaction at Yankee Stadium.

A few minutes after the final out in New York, the Orioles got the final out at Fenway, helping out both the Yankees (who now lead the Red Sox by six games) and the Rays (who still trail the Sox by two games, and only one in the loss column).

No reaction in the Yankees clubhouse. In the Rays clubhouse, manager Joe Maddon got a thumbs-up from PR director Rick Vaughn.

"A lost opportunity," Maddon said. "But then again, it's not so bad."

The Yankees might view this wild-card race differently this weekend, when the rival Red Sox are in town. They might view it differently once they've clinched their playoff spot, and the division title.

Or is it possible that they really don't care?

"I want our guys to go out and play well," Girardi said. "And we'll see what happens."

It's true that the Yankees have concerns of their own, although they're miniscule compared to the issues the Red Sox are dealing with. The Yankees went only 4-6 on the coast-to-coast trip they ended Sunday in Toronto.

"We lost a couple of games, and everyone talked about how poorly we were playing," Jeter said. "Now we win a couple, and people ask about how well we're playing."

Yes, it really is that boring around here. Nothing like Fenway, that's for sure.

The Yankees have an old team that could use some rest, and it certainly will be interesting to see how Girardi chooses to rest his stars once they clinch.

The Yankees also have the same questionable rotation we've been talking about since spring training, although the development of Ivan Nova, who shut out the Rays for 7 2/3 impressive innings Tuesday night, could give them a second starter behind CC Sabathia.

And Phil Hughes has back spasms, which already caused his start this week to be pushed back, and now it could be scratched altogether.

But the issues here seem so minor right now, and the games seem so ho-hum.

There's a pennant race going on, but the Yankees seem more like observers than participants.

Here, it really does feel like just another game.


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