But as September dawns, the Yankees can take comfort in entering the final push exactly where they came in. Mark Teixeira hit one of three New York homers in a rout of the Oakland Athletics, 9-3, on Tuesday, that helped the Yankees reclaim sole possession of first place in the AL East.
"That's what August is all about -- the dog days," Teixeira said. "You're going to have injuries, you're going to have bumps and bruises. Guys are going to get tired. We came out of it still in first place, which is where we want to be. We'd love to be 10 games up, but this division is too tough."
On a night when Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson also homered in a pounding of A's starter Vin Mazzaro, Teixeira said the Yankees had been scoreboard-watching "a little bit" to see the Rays' grip on first place slipping, by virtue of a loss to the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field.
The Yankees earned those moments. New York's 16-13 August grind included injuries to All-Star third baseman Alex Rodriguez and designated hitter Lance Berkman, as well as a setback in left-hander Andy Pettitte's recovery and just one precious off-day.
Still, a season-high 32 games over .500, the Yankees can pick up the newspapers and claim ownership of baseball's best record at 82-50.
"I thought we battled through a tough month with some injuries and an extremely tough schedule physically," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Some guys we expected to get back didn't get back. I thought our guys played extremely hard and found a way to have a winning month. In our division, that's extremely important."
Teixeira cracked the game open with his fourth-inning shot off Mazzaro, reaching the second deck for his second homer in as many games.
With the blast, Teixeira became just the sixth Yankees player all-time to hit at least 30 homers in each of his first two seasons after joining the club, a feat also accomplished by Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield.
"The last two games have been good," Teixeira said. "I've been getting some pitches to hit, and I give Robinson Cano a lot of credit for that. Guys don't want to walk me or anyone in our lineup. Our lineup has been clicking on all cylinders."
"He's had a great series so far," A's manager Bob Geren said of Teixeira. "We have to try to slow him down somehow. We had a game plan against him for our righties, and hopefully, we'll have success against him the rest of the way."
Supporting starer Phil Hughes New York jumped on Mazzaro for three runs in a 35-pitch first inning. Cano brought home the first run on a double play, and after a Mark Ellis error, Jorge Posada slid safely into third base with his 10th career triple -- and his first since April 26, 2008, at Cleveland.
New York extended its lead in the third, as Swisher connected for his 25th home run, a two-run shot with Teixeira aboard. The swing came after third-base coach Rob Thomson flashed the green light on a 3-0 count, which Swisher admitted had excited him.
"I've never been that kind of guy that got the green light," Swisher said. "When you're in a situation like that, all you're trying to do is make contact. [Mazzaro] had really good sink on his fastball, so all you're trying to do is look for something up in the zone."
Granderson hit his 15th home run of the season in the fourth. In all, the Yankees got to Mazzaro -- a product of nearby Rutherford, N.J. -- for nine runs (seven earned) on seven hits in just 3 2/3 innings, with three walks, three strikeouts and a hit batsman.
"They pretty much did what they always do," A's catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "When they get good pitches, they hit them far. They keep battling you and fouling you off until they get that pitch."
The support was appreciated by Hughes, who hung in long enough to qualify for his 16th victory. The right-hander waited near the dugout steps to thank his teammates for putting up with what he called an "embarrassing" performance.
"I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for our guys," said Hughes, who walked five in the two-run, four-hit outing. "They're battling at the plate, and to have to sit out there and watch that, I just told them to keep it going and I'll try to fix whatever's going on right now."
Hughes said that fatigue is not an issue, but his fastball command needs to be worked on. The unfinished product was good enough, as Hughes posted his third victory in four starts, allowing just a Suzuki sacrifice fly and Rajai Davis RBI groundout.
"[Hughes] knows he didn't have his 'A' stuff today, but the one thing about it that makes all of us extremely happy is that he grinded it out," Swisher said. "He grinded every pitch, every batter. That's what you want. You want heart from your pitchers, and we have that here."
Daric Barton connected off former A's righty Chad Gaudin in the seventh for a solo homer, his eighth, to end the scoring. The Yankees' trying month may be complete, but there's little time to savor it. September promises to be more of a challenge.
"We're one game ahead, with a whole bunch to go still, and we're going to meet up [with the Rays] a whole bunch of times," Girardi said. "But obviously, you'd rather have the lead."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less