Before the Yankees played their final game of the first half Sunday night in Baltimore, Joe Girardi gathered the team together for a meeting.

The message, delivered in Girardi's typical direct, no-time-wasted style, was brief:

Enjoy the All-Star break and get some rest, but come back sharp and ready to go for the start of a second-half push.

The word "fight" might have been used more than any other by Girardi during a first half in which four starting pitchers hit the disabled list and a fair share of position players joined them there.

"You have to continue to fight," Girardi said almost every time he was asked how his club possibly could respond to yet another player going down.

With Sunday night's 3-1 rain-shortened loss to the Orioles, the Yankees -- who will begin the second half Friday night against the Reds at Yankee Stadium -- pulled into the break at 47-47, a .500 record that is a Rorschach ink test for fans, media and the Yankees themselves.

One reaction: It is a disaster, not anything close to what managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner envisioned when he invested nearly $500 million in contracts during the offseason.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Or this: It's in the category of we're-lucky-to-be-here. After all, the Yankees are only five games behind the first-place Orioles in the American League East and are very much in the thick of a wild-card chase pockmarked with flawed teams.

"There's a lot of teams in our division that are fortunate right now," Derek Jeter said this week at the All-Star Game in Minneapolis. "It always could be worse, so you have to hang your hat on the positive side."

With 80 percent of the Opening Day rotation on the disabled list (CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova have made only 16 starts between them), and with Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran -- two of the big free agents they signed to spur the offense -- not performing as expected, how have the Yankees hung around?

"We keep battling. That's all you can do is continue to work," Jeter said. "And we can't feel sorry for ourselves. We don't allow ourselves to feel sorry. Other guys have to step in and do the job, and we've had some guys that have come in and done well for us."

Dellin Betances and David Robertson have led a bullpen that is perhaps the biggest reason the Yankees have kept their heads above water. Betances has been among the dominant relievers in the sport, posting a 1.46 ERA and 0.70 WHIP in 40 games and striking out 84 in 551/3 innings. His performance to a degree has overshadowed that of Robertson, but the closer has been nothing short of brilliant in his first year as Mariano Rivera's replacement, going 23-for-25 in save chances and striking out 59 in 322/3 innings.

But a legitimate concern is just how fresh the bullpen can stay after repeatedly being called on to record 10 or more outs because the starters didn't last more than four or five innings. "We've pitched a lot, but I've prepared myself to pitch every day. That's how I've prepared," Betances said. "[But] this break will help all of us."

After not being used in the All-Star Game, Betances said he was disappointed but not overly so. "I guess I could use the rest," he said with a smile. "I'll take the extra days off and be ready to help the team win a division in the second half."

In recent years in the AL East, that would be considered a long shot for a .500 team. But the division's mediocrity has kept all the teams feeling as if they're in it -- which they are.

Jeter acknowledged "it's going to be tough" to make a second-half run with four-fifths of the rotation down, but he also isn't obsessing about how many games back his team is.

"We have a lot of games left. It's way too early to look at standings," Jeter said. "We play everybody [in the division]. I've never been one to pay attention to standings until you get to the end of August or September."