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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Yankees shining through adversity

October is the measure of success for the Bombers

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BOSTON -- If the New York Yankees were almost any other baseball team, we'd marvel at how they've persevered. We'd point to their toughness and resilience and sing the praises of their manager. We'd tell the world their clubhouse leaders were made of the right stuff.

All those things are true. The Yankees have had an incredible season. Not in the way the A's have had an incredible season or how the Tigers have had an incredible season. But it has been incredible nonetheless.

That's the bottom line. Because they're the Yankees, because they have deep pockets, they'll always be evaluated differently than other teams. That's OK. They do that themselves.

George Steinbrenner offered no excuses, and general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi won't either. All that matters is the bottom line. That's life around the Yankees.

Still, to stay in contention after losing four starting pitchers to injuries says so many good things about the Yankees on an assortment of levels. Girardi may look back and see this season as the most challenging one he has ever had. In an odd way, it may be one of the most satisfying regardless of how it plays out.

Cashman has worked relentlessly to improve the team. His farm system may not have the pieces to make a dramatic addition. Rather than do nothing, Cashman has continued to upgrade the Yankees at every opportunity.

He added Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano to the rotation, got Chase Headley to play third, Stephen Drew to play second base and Martin Prado to be a sort of super utility player. Meanwhile, the Yankees have gotten significant contributions from their farm system, from Chase Whitley and Shane Greene, from Dellin Betances and Adam Warren.

After Cashman's additions of Drew and Prado at Thursday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Yankees have used 49 players in all, including seven making their Major League debuts. Twenty-eight pitchers, including 11 starters, have been used. They've started a rookie pitcher 49 times, tops in the Majors.

And yet, somehow they've made it all work. Well, sort of. Despite losing six of seven before Saturday's 6-4 victory over the Red Sox, the Yankees trail the first-place Orioles by five games in the American League East. They're 2 1/2 games out in the race for the second AL Wild Card berth.

"It really hasn't been difficult," Girardi said. "We had a lot of practice last year. We've had a lot of practice already this year. I've said all along we've got a great group of guys in there. Guys with open arms. Guys that have a history together."

Most games down the stretch, the Yankees likely will start players who have been acquired in the last year at six of nine everyday positions. Yet the transition seems completely seamless.

Yankee starting pitchers have won just once in the last eight games, but the bullpen has been terrific and the reconfigured offense looks like it'll be fine. Whether or not the Yankees can get to October will be played out over the final two months.

Inside the clubhouse, though, there's still the usual confidence that playing hard and playing together will get them where they want to go. They won't get CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova back this season and may not have Masahiro Tanaka. But Michael Pineda could be only a few days from returning to the Bronx.

"It's probably more of a challenge for the guys that are coming over," Derek Jeter said. "It's not so much of a challenge for us. We try to make everyone feel as comfortable as possible. There's only so much you can do. It takes some time before you get acclimated with new surroundings and new teammates. We just try to make everyone feel comfortable."

Some of that is Cashman's attempt to acquire a certain tye of player. For instance, Prado and Drew arrive with the reputation of being people who are good teammates and consummate pros.

Likewise, the same can be said of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann, who were big-ticket acquisitions last offseason. Again, the Yankees have no idea if they're good enough to get to October, but they're still been a competitive, interesting team.

"We've brought in some very good players," Ellsbury said. "Obviously, it's tough when the guys you've been playing with all season leave. It's only been two days [since the Trade Deadline], but I feel like the transition, fitting in the clubhouse, is going great. I've heard nothing but great things about them from other organizations."

In the end, the Yankees will always be judged only by what happens in October. This is the part of the deal they're accustomed to. They expect as much from themselves as their fans expect. Yet in a different sort of way, this season has already been a success. They've done the pinstripes proud.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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