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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees looking like Bronx Bombers again

Alex Rodriguez swings and misses but later walked

Alex Rodriguez swings and misses but later walked in the bottom of the first inning of a game against the Chicago White Sox. (Sept. 4, 2013) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The Little Yankees Team That Could batted Alex Rodriguez, the $28-million third baseman nine homers away from tying Willie Mays, in the sixth spot for Wednesday night's series finale against the White Sox.

Some other notables who also hit there at some point during this season include Zoilo Almonte, Brennan Boesch and yes, Travis Ishikawa.

In other words, we don't need to call Bill James to figure out what's going on with these Yankees right now. Joe Girardi deserves Manager of the Year honors for what he did to keep them in the playoff hunt through a calamitous first half, but this is no longer a wounded team willing itself to victories.

With apologies to the rehabbing Mark Teixeira, the Yankees are the Yankees again, and they have every reason to plan on playing October baseball -- for what would be the 18th time in 19 years. In sweeping the woeful White Sox, courtesy of Wednesday's 6-5 win, the Yankees set up a four-game showdown with the visiting Red Sox that, with a little outside help, could have them in possession of the second wild card by the end of the weekend.

"I think our guys understand how much fun it is to be in the playoffs," Girardi said. "How rewarding it is and how rewarding it is when you have to fight for it every year. They've been through challenges before, and knowing that they've had success, I think all those things help when you try to do what we're trying to do."

We know what you're thinking. Sweeping a White Sox team that can't throw or catch really isn't much of an accomplishment. But this is not about one series. The Yankees -- through the acquisition of Alfonso Soriano and basically the simple act of getting healthy -- have transformed themselves into Bronx Bombers again, something that we never thought we'd see this year.

At the All-Star break, with half the lineup still rehabbing in Tampa, the Yankees ranked 20th overall in runs scored with 373, three fewer than the Mets, and were 21st in home runs with 88, one more than the club in Flushing. But in the last 30 days alone, dating to A-Rod's debut in Chicago, only two teams -- the Rangers (147) and Tigers (146) -- have scored more runs than the Yankees (137) heading into Wednesday's game. They also are fifth overall in homers (30) during that span and fourth with a .772 OPS.

"The thing is we have a lot more firepower in our lineup -- that's the bottom line," Girardi said. "And it's changed a lot of games."

It's not rocket science. With Brett Gardner having a career year hitting leadoff, Derek Jeter back in the No. 2 hole, Robinson Cano protected by Soriano and Curtis Granderson again a deep threat, the Yankees are as close to full strength as they're ever going to get. It also doesn't hurt that Cano and Granderson have the added carrot of free agency waiting at the end of this season.

And, of course, there's A-Rod, the biggest X-factor of all. During a five-month stretch that felt more like a mash-up of "Survivor" and "Celebrity Rehab" than a baseball season, it's no surprise that Rodriguez has been the star attraction. The real upset has been what he's contributed on the field.

Not only has Rodriguez and his two bad hips performed capably around third base, he's batting .277 with four homers and 10 RBIs through 26 games.

"I think it's a confident group," Girardi said.

And as the Red Sox are about to find out, a much more dangerous one.

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