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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees keeping a step or two ahead of attrition

Yankees starting pitcher Ivan Nova pauses after Baltimore

Yankees starting pitcher Ivan Nova pauses after Baltimore Orioles' Chris Davis hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning. (Sept. 10, 2013) Credit: AP

BALTIMORE - In one corner of the clubhouse, Ivan Nova was pointing to a sore spot below his right elbow. Or was it above? Something about the triceps muscle. But don't worry, Nova insisted.

"I can't tell you how long it's been," the pitcher said. "But it's not the first time."

Out in the hallway, reporters chased down Alex Rodriguez, who wasn't moving that fast for the elevator because his left hamstring had tightened up on him, forcing him to leave last night's game in the eighth inning.

"They iced it," A-Rod said. "It feels pretty good."

Austin Romine wasn't around to talk. He was en route to a local hospital for what Joe Girardi believed to be a concussion. Romine took a foul ball off the face mask, felt nauseated, and departed for the rookie, J.R. Murphy.

And yes, somehow, the Yankees won this rallying from a 4-1 deficit to beat the Orioles, 7-5, at Camden Yards.

Oh, and lest we forget, Girardi also had to summon Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning -- for the third time in seven days. It used to be that Girardi rarely, if ever, called on Rivera for more than three outs. Now the Yankees manager dials him up well before then, with the frequency of a nervous mom checking on her kid at sleep-away camp.

How long can the Yankees keep doing this? Never mind catching the Rays or clinching the second wild card. We're talking about survival. At this rate, when the Yankees fly home after that final weekend in Houston, the team bus will head directly to New York Presbyterian.

"This is nothing new," Rivera said. "We've been in this situation before -- basically the whole year. We have to find a way. We'll find a way to get it done."

Listening to Rivera, anything sounds possible, and the Yankees did shave their wild-card deficit to two games. But when you're losing players to injury at a faster rate than games, it's little worrisome, right?

"No," Girardi said. "I've said all along there's no quit in this team and there's a lot of character in that room. They've fought all year and they continue to fight."

We'll forgive the Knute Rockne cliches because Girardi is right. And the Yankees are still alive. Fortunately, a few of their healthy players include Alfonso Soriano, who hit two more home runs and now has four multihomer games since joining the Yankees. In this second Bronx go-round, Soriano has 15 home runs and 47 RBIs in only 43 games.

Robinson Cano appeared to be moving under his own power late Tuesday night, so we'll put him in the plus column, too. Along with Mark Reynolds, a scrap-heap pickup after his release from the Indians that hit a huge homer Tuesday night -- and one of the more spectacular shots of the season.

The Yankees already have been leaning on Eduardo Nuñez at shortstop, and until they let Derek Jeter step on the field at some point, even for batting practice, this is going to have to get done with the captain serving a mostly ceremonial role.

Girardi has no choice but to keep pushing. There may be only 17 games left, but that feels like a lot right now, and the manager is running the risk of getting to this team's breaking point too early. If that happens, so be it. His Yankees are saying they're up for the challenge.

In that case, look no further than Rivera, the 43-year-old closer who is undergoing a drastic change to his workload only two weeks from retirement. With David Robertson down -- if only for another day or two -- Girardi has relied on his old friend like a tattered security blanket. Rivera has no reason to leave anything in the tank.

"I have to be ready for any situation," Rivera said. "It sounds like a broken record, but that's what it is. We just have to do whatever it takes to win."

Simple, right? Plus, Rivera has the rest of his life to rehab.


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