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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

For Yankees, quest for 100 wins feels more like season of survival

Neil Walker #14 of the New York Yankees

Neil Walker #14 of the New York Yankees rounds the bases after his three-run home run in the first inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on September 26, 2018 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Credit: Getty Images / Mike Carlson

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Red Sox sold T-shirts to celebrate the occasion when they reached 100 wins earlier this month. Evidently it was a significant moment for the franchise.

And the Yankees? They’re closing fast on the century mark themselves — at 97 before Wednesday night’s game against the Rays — but you’d never know it. Relegated to wild-card status, and confronted daily by their inadequacies, a person might assume Boone & Co. are sitting in the upper-80s.

Nope. These Yankees stand on the verge of winning 100 games for the 20th time in franchise history, dating back to the first time they did so with the Murderers’ Row crew in 1927.

It’s one of those magical numbers in baseball, the validation of a special season. But for these Yankees, the quest for 100 has felt more like survival. Not only coping with significant injuries, but dealing with the blowback from sub-par performances, as in kicking Sonny Gray to the curb and infuriating the talk-radio types by not taking away Gary Sanchez’s catcher’s mitt.

The last time winning 100 games seemed this unfulfilling was 1954, when the 103-win Yankees finished eight games behind the Indians in the eight-team American League. And in those days, you either won the pennant at season’s end or went home. Good thing WFAN didn’t exist back then.

The 2018 Yankees will be advancing to October as the first Bronx team to win triple-digits and not finish in first place in the AL East, a detail they’ve been constantly reminded of by playing in the shadow of the Red Sox since July 2. As a result, their problems tend to take center stage over their success, and that’s continuing right down to the wire.

“Obviously a lot of people say we didn’t keep up with the Red Sox,” Neil Walker said. “But when you’re creeping up on a 100-win season, it’s a telling sign that you’re doing a lot of things right.”

And also able to overcome a bunch of stuff that went wrong. Before Wednesday’s game at the Trop, the media briefing with Aaron Boone went pretty much the way all of them have since April. A rundown of the medical list, with status updates and a tentative prognosis.

Aaron Hicks, bothered by a tight hamstring, is expected to skip the remaining games on the Trop’s artificial turf with a probable return this weekend at Fenway. Didi Gregorius was back to baseball activity, despite torn cartilage in his right wrist, and is likely a go for next week’s wild-card game. Gleyber Torres was sitting again with a sore ankle, a move that Boone described as precautionary.

That’s three big difference-makers, with home-field advantage for the wild card still up in the air and the do-or-die game itself only a week away. But thriving amid those holes also has been business as usual for the Yankees, who earlier this season had to deal with the extended absences of Gregorius, Torres, Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Aroldis Chapman.

Nobody is going to open a GoFundMe account for a Yankees’ team with a $180-million payroll, and Boone is savvy enough not play the sympathy card when he’s wearing pinstriped pants. But this club started the season as a World Series favorite, and even approaching 100 wins wasn’t enough to give them much breathing room down the stretch.

“No question,” Boone said. “We’ve had our share of adversity this year. Every club does. I’ve never lost perspective as to how hard it is to rack up wins in this league, even when things are rolling for you. The fact that we’ve faced our fair share of adversity hopefully is something that benefits us now and as we head into the postseason. But as we sit here and we look at it, I think all in all, we’ve had a really strong season.”

A franchise like the Yankees, however, doesn’t get to make that assessment in September. A one-and-done next Wednesday and the season has to be tossed into the failure pile, 100 wins or not. All these last six months did was earn them a ticket to October. As for the previous 100-win Yankee teams, they’re 12-3 in the World Series, with a pair of losses in the ALCS and one Division Series defeat.

Should these Yankees get to 100, this would be the first wild-card entrant into the playoffs, with another chance to make history as a member of that exclusive Club. You won’t find any commemorative T-shirts in the Bronx, however.

New York Sports