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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

It's not too early to appreciate Yankees’ stretch

Aaron Judge #99, Aaron Hicks #31 and Brett

Aaron Judge #99, Aaron Hicks #31 and Brett Gardner #11 of the New York Yankees celebrate after defeating the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, May 8, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Most years, it wouldn’t be super-significant that the Yankees and Red Sox were tied atop the American League East on May 8. Two ancient rivals, a century of banging heads. Nothing unusual about seeing them wrestle over first place.

But not this season. And not after Tuesday night, when the Yankees’ 3-2 victory in the Bronx completed a nearly six-week long odyssey to finally catch the Red Sox, who led the division by as many as 7 1⁄2 games on April 20.

Maybe it sounds silly to be scoreboard-watching before Memorial Day. We agree. But that’s not what we’re doing here. This is more about appreciating what the Yankees have been able to accomplish in a remarkably short period of time, with a relentless nature that should resonate deep into this season.

Aaron Boone tried to play it cool afterward, because that’s what managers do here in May. But you have to believe, when the cameras were off, and he walked away from the microphone, Boone smiled at this 16-1 streak, along with the statement it made in rapidly reeling in the Red Sox.

“I think there’s obviously been that belief,” Boone said. “But that belief comes with the confidence in guys’ abilities and each other. The most proud I am of this team . . . is that they grind it out. When you’re hyper-focused on competing, a lot of good things happen.”

No disputing that. Boone took over these Yankees as a first-time manager, at any level, and inherited a club with massive expectations. When they staggered to a 9-9 start, with the Red Sox sprinting ahead, the whispers already began. Boone was in over his head. The Yankees made a mistake in letting Joe Girardi go. The typical unfounded April panic.

As we soon discovered, the Yankees only required some extra time to get in gear, and now that this team is in warp drive, it’s going to be difficult to stop. On Tuesday night, during the series opener of Round 2, Luis Severino supplied an 11-strikeout effort — coming off his shutout of the world champs in Houston — and Giancarlo Stanton went deep twice for his third multi-homer game of the season.

Fittingly, Aaron Judge supplied the winning run, a bases-loaded single in the seventh inning, off none other than Joe Kelly, the Sox reliever that drilled Tyler Austin up at Fenway Park and ignited the benches-clearing brawl last month. Kelly was bombed with thunderous boos from the crowd 45,773 when he trotted in from the bullpen and got just what the raucous fans were thirsting for — some degree of revenge.

“You don’t forget,” Judge said. “But you’ve got to move on. You can’t live in the past. That got resolved and then you’ve got to play baseball.”

Boone talked about how these Yankees go about their business “with blinders on” and don’t get caught up in the noise around them. But that’s not easy to do in New York, where the baseball teams play 162 one-game seasons every year.

The early frustration with the Yankees’ sluggish start manifested itself with the Bronx fans getting on Stanton’s case from the jump, booing him as the strikeouts started piling up. In recent days, however, it finally seems to be over, with Stanton almost single-handedly lifting the Yankees over the Red Sox Tuesday night. He’s one of only four Yankees to have three multi-homer games within the club’s first 35 games, joining Alex Rodriguez (2007), Roger Maris (1960) and Mickey Mantle (1956). Those three, by the way, all went on to win the MVP. Stanton already has that award, so he’s probably happier being on this current pinstriped machine.

“It’s good — we’re right where we need to be,” Stanton said. “Still one tomorrow, still plenty more to go. Just have to keep pushing.”

That’s akin to breathing for these Yankees. Over this 16-1 surge, their pitchers have a 2.06 ERA, the rotation a 1.95. Offensively, the Yankees have averaged 5.94 runs with 24 homers. They can win in every possibly way, and just about every day, they somehow do.

The Yankees not only grabbed a share of the AL East lead Tuesday night, they got the Red Sox’s attention again. From here through the rest of the summer.

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