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Yankees take an unscheduled off day

TORONTO -- Like tens of millions of people across North America, the New York Yankees took Sunday off.

Unlike most of those millions, they were supposed to be working.

But really, which of us hasn't snuck an unauthorized vacation day here and there, or played hooky from school, or simply goofed off a little when the boss wasn't looking?

The Yankees lost to the Toronto Blue Jays 3-0 in the finale not only of their three-game series in Canada but also the wrap-up of a four-city, 10-game road trip that was more like the baseball equivalent of a stretch on a chain gang.

The rigors really started on Sept. 6, two days before the Yankees hit the road, with a game at Yankee Stadium that was delayed four hours by rain and didn't end until 2:15 a.m. That was followed by a day game less than 11 hours later, and a one-day hop to Baltimore to make up a game cancelled by Hurricane Irene.

Then came the three-city swing, from Anaheim to Seattle and finally the Great White North, where Sunday's loss left the Yankees on the short end of a three-game series to the Jays, who are playing out the string. Overall the Yanks dropped six of 10 on the trip.

And guess what? When they boarded the plane for Baltimore on Sept. 7, they were in first place in the American League East, two-and-a-half games ahead of the Boston Red Sox.

And when they left the Rogers Centre on Sunday night, having concluded a road trip that in most cases would be considered less-than-satisfactory at best, they were four-and-a-half games ahead.

So, yeah, on getaway day the Yankees pretty much played like they simply wanted to get away, and if this had been a boxing match a state commission might be threatening to hold back their purse for lack of effort.

But it was only a baseball game, one of 162 in a season in which everything important seems to be going their way, so in reality, it's a victimless crime.

A couple of hundred miles to the south, the Red Sox were continuing their implosion, losing to the surging Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees' magic number to clinch the AL East is seven, and their magic number to clinch a playoff spot is five. So this could all be wrapped up by midweek, from a New York perspective.

Most of the 34,657 who came to the Rogers Centre on a beautiful Sunday went home happy, having seen their otherwise hopeless team win a series from the big, bad New Yorkers.

And as an added public service, the Yankees made it easy for millions of metropolitan area sports fans, who hardly had to agonize over whether to watch the Yankees mail it in against the Blue Jays or the Jets play the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Plus, now it is virtually assured that Mariano Rivera's historic 602nd save will come before a Yankee Stadium crowd, since the next eight games will be played in the Bronx before one final three-game road trip to Tampa Bay.

As Derek Jeter -- who, along with Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson, was actually authorized to take the day off -- said, "Hey, we're going home in better shape than when we left, so how bad can it be?"

Well, it can be this bad: Freddy Garcia, so good for so long, was nearly as bad as he has been for his past three starts, in which he has allowed six home runs and run up a 10.94 ERA.

And the lineup, minus Jeter, Teixeira, Granderson and with Robinson Cano at DH, managed just four hits in eight innings off Brandon Morrow, three of which never left the infield.

The Yankees lost that makeup game in Baltimore, dropped two-of-three to the Angels and two-of-three to the Jays. Both Garcia and Bartolo Colon, the pitching surprises of the season, showed signs of breaking down. Phil Hughes had back spasms. And even CC Sabathia showed signs of mortality.

But thanks to the largesse of the Red Sox, who have lost eight of their past 10, the Yankees got a 10-day reprieve. Now, they head into another grueling 10-day stretch, in which they will have to play 11 games, seven of them with the Rays, who are playing for their playoff lives.

"I think we have been very fortunate," said Joe Girardi, who started the whole day-off atmosphere by sending out a lineup that looked more like the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. "We got to go home and play better, there's no doubt about it. At times we didn't swing the bats on this trip. Is it good pitching? Is it fatigue? I don't know. But I know that guys are pretty worn down. Hopefully they'll get to sleep in their own beds and catch up a little bit."

Girardi said fatigue was the reason for resting Jeter and Granderson, neither of whom had very good numbers against Morrow, and Teixeira, who actually did.

But in opting to rest some of his regulars, Girardi sacrificed nearly all the punch in his lineup. Until Eduardo Nunez -- who had three of the Yankees' five hits -- singled in the sixth, they had managed just two infield hits off Morrow (10-11), who struck out eight.

And Nunez, who makes a habit of baserunning lapses, managed to get himself thrown out trying to stretch when Jose Bautista alertly fired behind him as he made a wide turn, forcing Nunez to run into an easy tag-out at second.

"A mistake of aggression," Girardi called it. "In that situation, you got to know the score. You got to be cautious there."

The Yankees were trailing 3-0, courtesy of two solo home runs by Adam Lind and a throwing error by Garcia. Nunez's gaffe was not only the end of the inning, but the Yankees' first, last and only threat of the game.

Girardi admitted that the workload for both Garcia and Colon, both of whom are in their late 30s and neither of whom has been physically sound for some time, might be wearing on them.

"We worried about innings with both of these guys," he said. "So, yeah, there's some concern there. They just got to find a way to get it done."

"The last few starts I really haven't been doing my job," Garcia (11-8) said. "I'm frustrated about it, but that's part of the game. Sometimes you pitch good, sometimes you pitch bad. Hopefully next time it won't be Home Run Derby."

On the plus side, the Yankees got Alex Rodriguez back on this trip. He even homered on Saturday. And Granderson, who had been mired in a horrendous slump, also broke out in Saturday's 7-6 win with his 40th home run of the season.

"I think we got to take it one day at a time," Jeter said. "We have to have a good homestand. We're all looking forward to getting back there because we haven't been there for a while."

So now the Yankees head home, still comfortably ahead with just 11 games to go, and with one final gauntlet to run.

"This has been a pretty tough stretch," Girardi said. "But we were able to get some of our guys a little rest today and hopefully they come out and feel pretty good tomorrow. Really, it's been brutal."

Sounds like a situation that called for a day off, even if they schedule said they were supposed to be working.