NEW YORK -- It took until this week -- the Yankees' 131st game of the season to be exact -- for there to be a night in which both Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez carried their gloves onto the field together.
There was no great celebration as the two veterans manned the left side of the infield, just an understanding of the situation at hand. As Rodriguez puts it, the Yankees "need wins like oxygen," and their chances increase if Jeter and A-Rod can find a way to stay in the lineup.
"The tricky stretch is the next stretch, the 17 days in a row," manager Joe Girardi said. "That's the tricky stretch, with day games after night games. I think Alex might be a little further ahead than Jeet because he's been playing longer, but I feel pretty good about them."
After a season filled with false starts, Jeter finally has more games played in a Yanks uniform (eight) than as a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRider (seven). The captain appeared all three nights on the artificial turf of Toronto's Rogers Centre, going 3-for-12 while legging out his first double of the season.
"I think I've missed more games to injury this year than in 20 years combined," Jeter said, correctly. "It seems like everything's happened this particular year. It's hard to believe, but you move forward. You can't change anything that's happened."
And with 21 games now under his belt, Rodriguez has finally seemed to block out the noise surrounding the appeal of his 211-game suspension, telling his legal team to keep its banter to a minimum so he can focus on baseball.
"I think it's important," Rodriguez said. "I love the game of baseball. I think there are a lot of great stories going on. For us, we need 100 percent of our attention and focus and work ethic on the game of baseball."
Rodriguez checked into Thursday's off-day batting .282 with four home runs -- giving him 651 lifetime -- and nine RBIs, wielding a .364 on-base percentage and a .462 slugging percentage over 78 at-bats. As anyone who watched Yankees games earlier this summer can attest, the lineup needed that help.
Naturally, the physical condition of his key veterans is a major concern for Girardi, and there is always an ear pressed against the trainer's office when it comes to Jeter and Rodriguez.
Jeter has been told to "run under control" to guard against yet another injury, and he acknowledged this week that there is some danger with not having worked out his lower half normally since suffering a left ankle fracture in last year's playoffs.
Even with the ball jumping off his bat -- something that only happened intermittently during his long Minor League rehab stint -- Rodriguez rates himself as "a work in progress," believing his body is tuned up for a calendar that sits in late March or early April.
"Let's not forget, he's 38, too," Girardi said of Rodriguez. "It's not easy running out there every day when you're 38. You feel like if you play him every day, sometimes it gets counterproductive."
It's no easier at 39, in Jeter's case. He departed on Wednesday saying that everything felt fine, which was certainly preferable to the troubled tone in backup shortstop Eduardo Nunez's voice a few lockers down, fearing the worst as he headed for an MRI in New York.
Jeter said that his "job here is to play, so I want to be in there," a statement that has held true for pretty much every day of Jeter's career. Girardi joked that he did not even need to check to see how Jeter felt before Wednesday's game.
"We all know the answer. It's a five-letter word," Girardi said, pausing for effect. (The word was "great.")
Rodriguez has not complained of any maladies, but Girardi has tried to be proactive. He didn't play Rodriguez in the series finale against the Rays at Tropicana Field on Sunday, a day game after a night game, and is actively scanning the schedule for other opportunities to keep him fresh.
"I definitely feel like hitting those balls, especially in the high-to-mid 90s, that's definitely an improvement," Rodriguez said. "I'm still trying to get my legs underneath me, and I'm working hard on that right before every game. So far, so good."
The Yanks believe that it will take at least 90 wins to extend their season into October, and as they were reminded this week in Toronto, there are no gimmes on the schedule. For Jeter and Rodriguez, it's imperative to stay on board for a strong push -- all the while doing so "under control," somehow.
"This homestand is extremely important," Jeter said. "We play Baltimore first, so we have to come ready to play, because they have a great team as well. They're in the thick of things, so it's going to be a challenge for us. We have to take it one day at a time."