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Yankees control their own destiny down stretch

No one believes the Yankees are really as bad as they’ve been since the All-Star break, a team that was one of the very best in baseball looking record-wise like one of the very worst. The Yankees might not get to 100 wins, which seemed like a lock when they were 64-28. But we are about to find out over the rest of September and then into the first week of October just how good the ’22 Yankees really are, and not just against the Minnesota Twins.

We also may find out at the end of this regular season — if the Rays are still hard after the Yankees in the AL East even with a much rougher schedule — if the Yankees might end up rooting for the two teams in the world they hate the most: The Astros and the Red Sox, because the Rays’ last six games before the postseason happen to be against them.

This is no longer about where the Yankees were a few months ago. This is where they are now. And why they need to stand up and show up big the rest of the way.

“The great thing is that it’s right in front of us,” an angry Aaron Boone said a couple of weeks ago after another bad Yankee loss.

You know how bad it’s been going for the Yankees since July. All of a sudden, a lead that had once been 15 1/2 games in the AL East had a chance the day before to be reduced to three games by last Sunday, when the Yankees were looking at getting swept by the Rays, who haven’t gone away and won’t go away because they never do.

But Aaron Judge hit No. 53 at The Trop and scored the Yankees’ second run in a 2-1 victory that felt like the biggest win his team has had all season. The Yankees still weren’t scoring. Judge still felt like a one-man offense. But they had gotten a game. They still needed help as they try to gather themselves for the stretch run. And the schedule gave it to them.

The Twins really were coming to Yankee Stadium for four games. A Yankees fan friend of mine emailed me on Tuesday after the Yankees had won the first game of a doubleheader against the Twins — one that New York would end up sweeping by scoring a total of 12 runs, which felt like a hundred the way things have been going.

My friend’s email read this way: “I wish everyone loved me the way the Twins love me.”

Since 2002, the Twins are now 37-99 against the Yankees. It means they have been the equivalent of the ’62 Mets when playing the Yankees, even if this is a Twins team with a chance to win another AL Central this season. But the Yankees got them twice on Tuesday, first in extra innings. It means the Yankees have now won four in a row. The lead is still five going into Thursday’s games, four in the loss column.

We really are going to find out in a 25-game season for Aaron Boone’s team whether the Yankees are going to stand back up or have this turn into the most disappointing ending they have had since October 2004, when the Red Sox laid them out over the last four games of the American League Championship Series.

They’re still being hit hard by injuries. Anthony Rizzo is on the injured list and so is Andrew Benintendi. Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu were unavailable on Wednesday, and Josh Donaldson was on paternity leave. So Boone had four guys in his starting lineup for Game 1 who had been in the Minors not long ago: Oswaldo Cabrera, Oswald Peraza, Miguel Andújar and Estevan Florial. And it was Cabrera, a converted infielder, who not only produced the walk-off RBI with a single in the 12th of Game 1, but he also threw out a runner at the plate before that.

This wasn’t the September the Yankees were expecting when they were running away with the division, and people in New York had them halfway to the Canyon of Heroes for another World Series parade. These weren’t the Yankees who had rolled the world in April and May and June. But they were the Yankees Boone rolled out against the Twins.

When he was asked about his Game 1 lineup, here is what Boone said afterward:

“These are guys that are talented players that have a chance to come up and do something important to help us win these important games.”

They’re all important now, and not all against the Twins. We are going to find out — under the bright lights of a close division race the Yankees probably didn’t expect after the way they played over the first 100 games — which team is closer to being real: The one that was 64-28 or the one that’s been 19-26 since.

We’re going to find out, between now and the end of the month, whether a Yankees team that made just about everybody else look helpless early is going to need help in the end from the Astros and the Red Sox, when their enemies might turn out to be their very best friends.



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