MINNEAPOLIS -- Though the New York Yankees remain on pace to reach the 100-win mark, the threat of being forced to take a cross-country trip for a one-and-done postseason game sure has not disappeared.
This rare lopsided loss to the Minnesota Twins sure didn't help.
Joe Mauer hit a grand slam to highlight a six-run fifth inning, and the Twins beat the Yankees for the first time in 10 meetings, a 10-5 victory on Tuesday night after another flop by Sonny Gray as a starter.
"We've got to do better. We go out and lay an egg like that," manager Aaron Boone said, trailing off. "This is the time where we've got to start playing up to our capabilities and putting our best foot forward every single day."
Didi Gregorius answered Mauer's big bop with his own slam in the sixth. That was the only bright spot for the Yankees, who dropped nine games behind Boston in the AL East race and had their lead over Oakland for the first wild card spot cut to two games. The Athletics won their fifth straight game.
"Can't control what's going on over there," Gregorius said. "Can only control what's going over here."
The major league leaders in home runs with 234, the Yankees fell to 80-36 in games when they go deep. They grounded into three double plays and had only five hits, none after Gregorius hit his second grand slam against the Twins this year.
"We've got to dig down right now and find it," Boone said, "and try and lock in and get this thing rolling the right way."
Gray was dropped from the rotation in early August with an 8-8 record and 5.56 ERA. He pitched more aggressively in four relief appearances, then returned to the rotation for a spot start and took a shutout into the seventh inning at Baltimore on Aug. 25. He made one more relief appearance and was given the start against the Twins to allow the rotation an extra day of rest.
Gray (10-9) lasted three innings and allowed three runs -- two earned -- with four hits and three walks.
"You walk guys," Gray said, "and it will kill you."
The right-hander refused to acknowledge any added frustration from stumbling in his now-rare opportunity to start. Neither did he allow for any increased pressure the team might be feeling from the A's, his former team.
"We lost one game. We're fine," Gray said. "I feel like everyone's in good spirits."
Gregorius tripled and scored on Gary Sanchez's sacrifice fly for a second-inning lead, and Gray gave it back in a three-run third fueled by a two-run single by former Yankees farmhand Jake Cave. Jonathan Loaisiga fared even worse, forcing in a run with a bases-loaded walk to Max Kepler in the fifth.
Boone appeared to argue with plate umpire James Hoye that the third ball to Kepler actually grazed his bat for a foul ball. Three batters later, Mauer crushed a full-count fastball to center field where it landed in the berm beyond the wall. He came out for a curtain call after his fifth career grand slam, tying Tony Oliva for fourth place in Twins history with 597 extra-base hits.
"He's just got that ability to not let emotion or moments overtake his ability to perform," manager Paul Molitor said.
The Yankees are 96-34 against the Twins, including the playoffs, and have won every season series since the start of 2002. They outscored the Twins 66-23 over the nine-game winning streak that ended.
"It's always nice to beat those guys," Mauer said, "I'll tell you that."
Kohl Stewart (1-1) earned his first major league victory despite walking five batters in 3 1/3 innings. He followed reliever Tyler Duffey, who pitched two innings as a bullpen opener in the latest experiment by the Twins with a new trend that Tampa Bay started. This was their first win in three tries with the arrangement.
"I'm not saying it's right or wrong, I'm just saying it's different," Duffey said. "It worked today. If it works the next time around or doesn't, who knows?"
Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge missed his 44th game after being hit by a pitch that broke his right wrist, but for the second straight afternoon he put on a powerful batting practice display in addition to some defensive drills. Boone declined to divulge a specific timeline for Judge's return to the lineup, but the manager is clearly eager for that to occur. More clarity will come after Judge's workouts this weekend at Yankee Stadium, Boone said.
Yankees: With Boone preferring Austin Romine as the backstop for Gray, Sanchez moved from behind the plate to take a turn as the DH.
Twins: Tyler Austin was the DH for the Twins, after a four-game absence because of back tightness. Traded by the Yankees to the Twins on July 30 for right-hander Lance Lynn, Austin made his first appearance against his original team. He singled and walked in five plate appearances.
Yankees: RHP Luis Severino (17-7, 3.52 ERA) will pitch the last game of the series, coming off his shortest turn of the season with six hits and six runs allowed in 2 2/3 innings in a loss at Oakland last week. After an off day on Thursday, Masahiro Tanaka, C.C. Sabathia and Lynn will be the weekend starters against Toronto.
Twins: RHP Jake Odorizzi (5-10, 4.57 ERA) will take the mound on Wednesday night, reaching the 30-start mark for the third time in five years.
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