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Resilient Yankees not satisfied with their big lead in AL East

The Yankees' Aaron Judge smiles after scoring during

The Yankees' Aaron Judge smiles after scoring during the 10th inning against the Rays at Tropicana Field on July 4 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Credit: Getty Images/Julio Aguilar

After the Yankees saw their American League East lead balloon to a season-high 7 1/2 games with an extra-inning victory over the Rays on July 4, Aaron Boone responded with the equivalent of a verbal shrug.

“It’s a good lead, and all I keep saying to our guys is we’ve put ourselves in a position to have a great season, but that’s all,” Boone said. “There’s a long way to go. We have to look at it as we’re just getting started. It’s really good that we’re in this position now, but we have to keep on keeping on.”

The Yankees did that a day later, increasing their lead to 8 1/2 games, then saw their bats go cold two straight days, with the consecutive losses dropping their edge at the break to 6 1/2 games. That’s still a nice number, as is their overall record: 57-31, best in the American League.

“Not until it’s October and we’ve won the division,” Aaron Judge said. “Any team can come back. We’re not finished. We have to keep pounding away. Can’t be satisfied. We have to keep going.”

It’s a cliché that “injuries are not an excuse,” but they’re actually the ultimate excuse. Take Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman away from the Astros, for example, and it would be silly not to expect a drop-off in team performance.

Except the 2019 Yankees arguably have suffered losses just as devastating. At one point, they were without Didi Gregorius, Luis Severino, Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar and Judge — to name a handful — and more than thrived.

DJ LeMahieu heads the list of reasons why. The infielder started Tuesday night’s AllStar Game  at second base because of a first half in which he slashed and played well at three positions.

But he was far from alone. Gio Urshela’s play, in the field and with a bat, rescued the Yankees after Andujar was lost for the season; Cameron Maybin, before his left calf strain, provided a surprising boost for the outfield; Luke Voit, before he landed on the injured list just before the break, continued to show last year’s breakout performance wasn’t a fluke; and 22-year-old Gleyber Torres is well on his way to smashing the numbers he put up during his impressive 2018 rookie season.

Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman for the most part have been the lockdown relievers they were supposed to be, and Tommy Kahnle has enjoyed a rebound season. Nestor Cortes Jr. and David Hale have emerged as surprisingly steady arms in middle relief.

The rotation, however, has been up and down. General manager Brian Cashman is looking to add to it before the July 31 trade deadline, and he’d like one more consistent reliever as well.

Speaking of what has stood out, Boone said: “I think just the singular focus guys have had every day about coming in to do a job, to do their part in helping win a game.

“It sounds a little bit trite, but I think that’s been palpable in that room that whoever’s walked through those doors I think they’ve felt a part of it, and they’ve all as a result played a big part in us being able to win games. That’s stood out day in and day out with these guys.”

Judge missed 53 games with an oblique strain but spent much of his IL stint doing his rehab with the big-league club. He said something else has stood out to him.

“Just how tough they are mentally,” Judge said. “Doesn’t matter who goes down, what happens, what the score is. We always feel we’re going to win every single ballgame. It doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup, who’s not in the lineup, who’s pitching, who we’re facing. We feel like we can beat everybody. When you have that type of mindset and everyone’s on board, good things happen.”

Brett Gardner, who debuted in 2008 and is the longest-tenured Yankee, said one trait has been glaring to him.

“Just very resilient,” he said. “We’re never out of it until the game’s over. No deficit is too big for us to overcome . . . to be able to be here together and have the success that we’re having, it’s a lot of fun as a unit, as a team. Hopefully, there’s a lot more good times to come.”

New York Sports