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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Brian Cashman almost as surprised as outsiders at Yankees’ run

Boston's Mookie Betts steals second base as Starlin

Boston's Mookie Betts steals second base as Starlin Castro takes the throw in the first inning at Fenway Park on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. Betts initially was called out but was safe after a review. Credit: AP / Michael Dwyer



If there is a computer algorithm to explain how these retooled Yankees made their unlikely climb back into this playoff race — in which they now are teetering on the brink after Friday night’s 7-4 loss to the Red Sox — Brian Cashman didn’t have that data readily available when asked before the game.

For the first time in his 19-year tenure at the wheel, Cashman gutted the Yankees’ roster at the trade deadline this season, choosing to fly a white flag rather than chase a playoff berth, and instead achieved the exact opposite.

Not that the general manager created a contender by accident. Rebuilding is a plan, too. But it’s not a stretch to say the Yankees found themselves caring much more about these September outcomes than they had imagined they would on Aug. 1.

“The reason I made those deals is because the season was a failure,” Cashman said Friday. “So we were going to try and take a bad situation and turn it into a better situation because of it. The present got better and the future we believe is much better, too. Hopefully, it will play that way.”

It did, for a while. But the Red Sox showed Cashman the limits of that present while taking the first two games of this series.

They stole Thursday night’s 7-5 victory, battering the Yankees’ bullpen for five runs in the ninth and demoralizing Dellin Betances, who served up a walk-off three-run blast by Hanley Ramirez. On Friday night, the Red Sox relied on homers by Ramirez and Jackie Bradley Jr. for a relatively easy win that knocked the Yankees six games back in the AL East with 15 left.

The wild card remains a hazy vision — and fading fast, with David Price (6-0, 1.93 ERA in his last six starts) going Saturday for the Sox.

The Yankees leaned on their Baby Bombers to get them this far, and they helped create a contending vibe around this team that even Cashman didn’t see coming. But in the final analysis, this roster just isn’t as talented as Boston’s division leader. The Yankees could hang with this group for only so long.

But they have made a giant leap in the development phase. In Friday night’s lineup, uber-prospect Gary Sanchez was back in his familiar spot, batting third, and Mark Teixeira, a 14-year vet with 406 home runs, was hitting eighth — for the first time since 2004.

It’s all about the kids now, and we’re including in that youthful mix Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius, the pair of 26-year-olds who anchor the Yankees’ infield. As for Teixeira, the Yankees are merely counting the days toward his retirement, as he’s been given the opportunity to play out the season — an offer that wasn’t extended to Alex Rodriguez, and now we’re getting a good idea why.

But with all the Yankees’ success after dumping A-Rod and shipping out the others — Carlos Beltran, Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman and Ivan Nova — we’re still left wondering how this resurgence has been possible.

How can a GM willfully discard so much talent and then transform a .500 team (52-52) into one that was nine games over coming into this series?

Sanchez’s scorching arrival (.320, 14 homers) certainly is a huge boost, but this hasn’t been your typical addition-by-subtraction story. Something clicked, for some reason, and these pieces just fit together at the right time.

“I think the kids overall have had a real impact because they’re hungry and going all out,” Cashman said. “All their new experiences have rubbed off in a positive way on the rest of the clubhouse. Just kind of recharged everything a little bit.

“Listen, I can’t give you a real answer other than the fact we got guys that played better, the new guys we acquired have done a great job, Sanchez kicked butt and we just turned into a different dynamic. And maybe the fact we weren’t expected to win, the pressure real ly wasn’t there every day, as much as just go out and play. I don’t know, maybe all of the above. I’m just thankful for it.”

It was fun while it lasted. But the future will have to wait another year.


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