Yankees relief pitcher Lucas Luetge delivers against the Athletics during...

Yankees relief pitcher Lucas Luetge delivers against the Athletics during the sixth inning of an MLB game at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Lucas Luetge spoke to reporters for about 50 seconds after the Yankees win Wednesday, the questions fizzling out the way they sometimes do when a middle reliever is put in front of the cameras.

After an awkward silence (ours, not his), someone murmured "thank you" and Luetge was released from media captivity, ceding the stage to Jameson Taillon, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton behind him. And it’s not that Luetge isn’t interesting, or that his two hitless innings weren’t pivotal in the Yankees' 5-3 victory, not at all. It’s just that middle relief is a thankless, unglamorous job, and one that’s so easily overlooked, especially on a team of giants who can hit the ball 400 feet the same way us mere mortals punch a time clock or log into our work emails.

But maybe it shouldn’t be.

Judge and Stanton were undoubtedly the story Wednesday – the Yankees are 25-1 when they both homer, which they did against A’s starter Cole Irvin. But when you consider this team's staggering accomplishments thus far – at 56-20, they not only have the best record in baseball, but match the best start of any team in the last 93 years – it helps to peer beyond the surface.

Their bullpen, which allowed no runs and two hits in four innings Wednesday, has allowed just two earned runs in its last 26 innings. In fact, it hasn't allowed an earned run at all in their last 14 2/3, keying a 2.73 ERA, best in baseball. And it’s not just Clay Holmes, who Wednesday earned his 14th save, but also guys like Wandy Peralta, Michael King and Ron Marinaccio, who, incidentally, hasn’t allowed a run in his last 11 games. Wednesday, it was Luetge and Miguel Castro setting up Holmes after Taillon was tagged for three runs in the first inning.

“We’ve been in so many games where we haven’t gotten a hit for five innings, six innings and all of the sudden, the starter comes out,” Judge said. “You bring in a Michael King, you bring in a Castro, those guys who can give you a couple innings to buy time until the offense can start clicking. When you’re able to do that, to keep the score close, it allows the offense to do our thing and scratch out a run here or there and eventually win it late.”

And though the Yankees scored all their runs in the first three innings, it was technically what major-league baseball calls a come-from-behind victory, their MLB-leading 24th (whether a come-from-behind should count when it happens in the third is another issue entirely). Speaking to Anthony Rizzo a few days ago, I asked why they’ve been so good, late, and especially when trailing. And please, something concrete, not just the vague idea of resilience.

He paused, and instead of going with the obvious answer – they have athletes who can hit the ball very, very far and turn the game in an instant – he swerved.

“Realistically, I think our bullpen, guys who aren’t pitching in high-leverage situations, which they all can, they come in and hold the deficit and keep it at that,” Rizzo said. "It allows us to score a few runs here and there and the next thing you know, we’re one hit away from tying it or taking the lead.”

Taillon concurred, and though the Yankees weren’t behind when he left the game, he said Wednesday was “a prime example” of what middle relief has meant to the team. “We were a couple guys down in the bullpen today and it doesn’t matter who comes in…they can bridge the gap.”

It’s more, though, than just a nice weapon to have when you're working with a few tired arms. The Yankees are good – staggeringly good. So good, in fact, that the last two times they were 56-20 over their first 76, they won the World Series. But when it gets down to it, winning it all this year isn’t going to be about beating lesser teams into submission, as they did by sweeping the lowly A’s these last three days.

It’s going to be about staring down the Astros, and their own loud lineup and very good pitching. And if they make it all the way to the end, it could very well be about going toe-to-toe with the Dodgers, who have the best rotation ERA in baseball. Or maybe the Mets, with a rested Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom itching to make up for lost time.

It’s going to be about the little things and the sometimes-overlooked things, and the middle reliever who gets a few seconds of airtime while everyone mills around waiting for Judge.

“That’s kind of what separates the top-tier teams from the middle of the pack teams,” Taillon said. “Every team has some good middle of the order bats or solid starting pitching, but we’re so deep that we have the starting pitching, we have the lineup, and we’re even super deep in the middle of games. That really does set us apart.”

That it does. And apologies to Lucas Luetge. I’ll come up with a question next time.

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