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Masahiro Tanaka makes for meaningful September for Yankees

They need to find out if his elbow will hold up under game conditions rather than waiting until spring training, because if he winds up needing Tommy John surgery, obviously the earlier the better.

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On Saturday, Masahiro Tanaka throws to hitters for the first time.

Nothing comes easy for the Yankees these days, certainly not scoring runs, and so even after they scratched out a 4-3 walk-off win against the White Sox on Friday night, their chances of playing meaningful baseball deep into September seem to be iffy at best.

And in that case it’s only natural to ask if it makes sense to pitch Masahiro Tanaka regardless.

The Yankees say it does and I tend to agree. They need to find out if his elbow will hold up under game conditions rather than waiting until spring training, because if he winds up needing Tommy John surgery, obviously the earlier the better.

In other words, the last thing they should do is bring the 2016 season into question, in addition to 2015.

But are they putting Tanaka at greater risk by pitching him in the coming weeks, after he was diagnosed in July with a small tear in his elbow ligament?

“We’ve asked the doctors that same question like three times," GM Brian Cashman said by phone on Friday. “Should we slow him down? Should we sit him down? And they say no, he’s doing all the right things.

“So we’re following their instructions. A small tear can repair itself with rehab, and that’s why the doctors have recommended this course of action. So we’re going to let him pitch. It’s in our best interests for him to declare himself healthy."

Actually, Tanaka already did that verbally a couple of days ago, but on Saturday he throws to hitters for the first time, and from there he’ll throw simulated games and finally the real thing, with each step expected to put more stress on the elbow.

If he handles all of that without a problem and resembles the Tanaka who dominated the American League before the injury in early July, he could influence the way the Yankees go about trying to fix their problems for 2015.

That is, rather than try to sign a Jon Lester or a Max Scherzer, perhaps the Yankees would go all in on Nelson Cruz or Victor Martinez, hoping that another power bat would provide the offensive jolt they may well need as much next season as they did this season.

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Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild (l.) watches Masahiro Tanaka throw last weekend.

Cashman said he’s not even thinking about any of that yet, still hoping this team can put a winning streak together and make a run at the postseason.

But it’s hard to believe the Yankee bats are suddenly going to awaken this late in the season, so you wonder what the priority will be in the offseason.

If it’s offense, well, they just passed on Cuban defector Rusney Castillo, who signed with the Red Sox for seven years and $72.5 million. Sources say the Yankees passed on Castillo because a similar contract would have cost them more than $100 million because of the 50% luxury tax they pay, and they deemed it too risky.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t spend big again in the free-agent market, especially for a power hitter. And while they won’t have a lot of positional flexibility, either Cruz or the switch-hitting Martinez would fit as a primary DH.

The question is whether they would spend big on one of those sluggers — in addition to needing a shortstop — if they need to sign a top pitcher such as Lester, Scherzer or James Shields.

Of course, even if they feel they can count on Tanaka, the Yankees might still want another ace. And if Tanaka does pitch without a problem in September, you can make the case that it would be quite a gamble to count on him in 2015, if Tommy John surgery is inevitable sooner or later.

However, Cashman thinks that notion is overstated. He said in recent years the Yankees have had a few pitchers, whose names he preferred not to identify, that successfully rehabbed similar elbow ligament tears and returned to pitching.

“There have been some success stories," he said.

Whatever their wild-card race status in September, the Yankees need to find out if Tanaka can be another.

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New York Yankees starter Shane Greene pitches against the Chicago White Sox in the first inning of a baseball game at Yankee Stadium on Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in New York.

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Shane Greene of the New York Yankees pitches in the first inning against the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium on August 22, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

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Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees can't attempt a second inning double play as he avoids the slide from Carlos Sanchez of the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium on August 22, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

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New York Yankees' Martin Prado hits a two-run home run off of Chicago White Sox starting pitcher John Danks in the third inning of a baseball game at Yankee Stadium on Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in New York.

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New York Yankees' Jacoby Ellsbury follows through on an RBI double off of Chicago White Sox starting pitcher John Danks in the fifth inning of a baseball game as Tyler Flowers catches for the White Sox at Yankee Stadium on Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in New York.

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New York Yankees' Ichiro Suzuki heads to first off Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Daniel Webb in the ninth inning of a baseball game at Yankee Stadium on Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in New York. Suzuki scored on Martin Prado's single to give the Yankees a 4-3 win.

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Martin Prado of the New York Yankees connects on a his game-winning ninth inning base hit against the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium on August 22, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

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New York Yankees' Martin Prado reacts after his game-winning RBI single that scored Ichiro Suzuki in the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium on Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in New York. The Yankees won 4-3.

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And here's something about the Yankees' retired numbers:

When Derek's Jeter's number is retired, it will be the end of the line of single-digit numbers over the hallowed blue pinstripes.

The Yankees officially took Joe Torre's No. 6 out of circulation yesterday while Jeter's No. 2 is a formality away from joining his and the other sacred numbers -- 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 23, 32, 37, 42, 44 and 49 -- on the wall in Monument Park.

The first team to likely retire all their single numbers was also the first to place numbers on uniforms, starting the practice in 1929. Initially, the numbers were assigned based on the starting position players' everyday spot in the batting order -- Babe Ruth batted third, Lou Gehrig fourth. By 1937, Major League Baseball made it a requirement for all teams to issue numbers.

The Yankees were the first big-league baseball team to retire a numeral when they bestowed the honor on the terminally ill Gehrig in 1939.

It wasn't until 1954 that a team outside New York retired a number -- Pirates manager Billy Meyer's No. 1

Jackie Robinson's No. 42 was offically retired across the board by Major League Baseball in 2007. Mariano Rivera's No. 42, which was grandfathered from the MLB edict, was retired after he pitched his last game in 2013.

Including Rivera, the Yankees -- with 17 -- have the longest list of retired numbers. But the most impressive are the soon-to be-extinct single digits:

BILLY MARTIN

Number retired Aug. 10, 1986

Fittingly and owing to his stormy relationship with owner George Steinbrenner, Martin was brought back to manage the Yankees for a fifth time in 1988 -- two years after his number was retired. "George always came back to him because my father wasn't a 'Yes' man,'" Billy Martin Jr. said. "It may not have always been what he wanted to hear, but it was the truth, at least my father's perception of it. Their relationship was truly love-hate. He respected his loyalty and desire to win. It drove me crazy that he always wanted to be there, he was gaunt, pale, and malnourished. He loved the Yankees more than he hated putting up with what he had to be there. He'd say 'I'm a Yankee. I'm just not happy anywhere else.' "

Martin said his father and Steinbrenner had been talking about a sixth stint with the Yankees before Martin died in an automobile accident on Christmas Day in 1989. Bobby Richardson and Bobby Murcer also wore No. 1 during their Yankees career.

BABE RUTH

June 13, 1948

Ruth, diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his neck less than two years earlier, was honored in what would be his last public appearance at Yankee Stadium. He died on Aug. 16. Unlike Gehrig, perhaps the greatest player in baseball history did not have sole ownership of his number. Outfielder Cliff Mapes, who would go on to wear three legendary Yankee numbers, was the last Yankee to wear No. 3 -- in 1948. When he got to meet Ruth during the ceremony retiring his number, it was the fulfillment of a boyhood dream for Mapes and his family. "His dad was bound and determined for him to become a baseball player," said Mapes' daughter, Jan Mapes Cobler. "When he was born his dad went and told everybody he was going to be the new Babe Ruth. He was excited about wearing that number.''

LOU GEHRIG

Jan. 6, 1940

The myth is that Gehrig's number was retired on July 4, 1939, on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day. Gehrig, suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the then-little known incurable disease recently brought to the forefront of society by the Ice Bucket Challenge, played his last game two months earlier after amassing a then-record 2,130 consecutive games. But the Yankees say the team officially retired Gehrig's number on Jan. 6, 1940 in an announcement made by team president Ed Barrow. Gehrig died June 2, 1941 at age 37.

Gehrig was the only Yankee to wear the number, which was assigned in 1929.

JOE TORRE

Aug. 23, 2014

Torre is the third Hall of Fame Yankee to wear No. 6. Tony Lazzeri, who also wore Yankees retired numbers 5, 7 and 23, had No. 6 for five seasons. Lazzeri does not have a retired number, and is not in Monument Park. "It would nice to see him there," grandson Matthew Lazzeri said. "If it's an oversight or some sort of qualification that hasn't been met that's one thing. His years and being in the Hall of Fame should put him in good standing, I would think, with other people that are in there. But it's never been an issue with us."

Second baseman Joe Gordon, who played mostly in the 1940s, also wore No. 6. He was inducted posthumously into Cooperstown in 2009.

Roy White wore No. 6 for 11 seasons. "You can't play for the Yankees and not be cognizant of the retired numbers," he said. "That's one of the first things you knew about the Yankees, the numbers that were retired. Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio."

White assumed the number would be retired one day but "Not from me. I figured sooner or later somebody would have No. 6 that would be great enough to have that number enshrined in Monument Park. A lot of people told me I had No. 6 longer than anybody in history. I told a lot of people when I go by there I can point and say 'Hey, there's my number in Monument Park.' "

Outstanding defensive third basemen Clete Boyer also wore No. 6. Tony Fernandez was the last Yankee before Torre to have the number. "I'm sure they will remember Joe more than they remember me," he said with a laugh.

MICKEY MANTLE

June 8, 1969

"My dad always said that was his proudest moment," Danny Mantle said of his father's number being retired. "It was joining Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio."

Mantle was assigned No. 6 when he started his big-league career in 1951 but was sent down to the minors in July by Casey Stengel. "Dad said he didn't like the No. 6,' " his son said. "When he came back [from the minors] and put on No. 7 was really when he was playing good." His son said 1951 was basically the only season Mantle wasn't injured. "His knees were our alarm clock in the morning, so I knew what he went through," he said. "Maybe he used the alcohol for pain. He's my hero, I'll tell you that."

Dr. Bobby Brown, a Yankee who played shortstop and third, briefly wore No. 7. "I always thought he was the fastest human being I ever saw," Brown said of Mantle. "And I saw Olympic sprinters."

Mantle struck up a friendship with fellow Oklahoman Cliff Mapes, who had worn No. 7 and eventually was traded to make room for Mantle. Robert Taylor, Mapes' nephew, said Mantle wrote to Mapes after the trade, saying, "Sorry you had to be traded to make room for me. Sure am glad I got No. 7 because No. 6 wasn't worth a damn."

Mapes wore No. 5 when he went to the Tigers, the number that was later retired for Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. He also was No. 13 for the Yankees, now worn by Alex Rodriguez.

Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher, an infielder in 1929, was the first Yankee to wear No. 7.

YOGI BERRA & BILL DICKEY

July 22, 1972

Both Yankee Hall of Fame catchers shared in the honor that day at the Stadium, though Yogi, then manager of the Mets, wasn't in attendance. In a recorded announcement, Berra said he was with "My Mets," and the crowd booed. Dickey reportedly said "Those boos, you know, are for the Mets, not Yogi." Berra has 10 World Series rings. At 89 and frail, Berra is seen at the Stadium for special occasions, including yesterday's ceremonial retiring of Joe Torre's number.

Dickey played with some legendary Yankees. "He was very close to Lou Gehrig," said Mary Neal Bridges, Dickey's niece. "They were roommates. He was the best man at his wedding and he told him about his illness. Another No. 8, catcher, John Grabowski, has some reflected glory attached to the number, which he received in 1929. He was on the famed 1927 Yankees. He had something of a day in his honor in 1926, though it was not organized by the Yankees. Some 2,500 fans from his hometown in Schenectady came down to the Stadium for "John Grabowski Day" and were given a lapel pin with Grabowski's name on it.

Grabowski, who won two World Series rings with the Yankees, died at 46 from burns he sustained from a fire in his upstate home.

ROGER MARIS

July 22, 1984

Maris, who held the single-season home run record of 61 for 38 years, died 18 months after being honored. Son Kevin wears the number as coach of a high school baseball team in Gainsville, Florida. "I issued it to myself in representation to him," Maris said. "I do it in honor of him. It was one of dad's proudest moments. Mr. Steinbrenner thought enough of him. Dad couldn't be more proud of that opportunity. I don't think that registered with him at the time that he was in the line of greatness. It was mere coincidence that there was a single digit."

It still stings the family, Kevin Maris said, that some still think Maris' 61 home runs in 1961, which broke Babe Ruth's then-single season home run record of 60, was affixed with an asterisk. Roger Maris believed that to be factual, too, his son said. "Howard Cosell came to our house one year in the early 1980s and said 'Hey, Rog, do you realize there was never as asterisk put in the record books?' Dad says. 'Really, I did not know that.' He lived most of his life thinking that."

Asked about his father's mark later being shattered by others, Kevin Maris said, "Maybe they should have a syringe instead of an asterisk."

Graig Nettles was the last Yankee to wear No. 9 before it was retired.

JOE DiMAGGIO

April 18, 1952

The Yankee Clipper originally wore No. 9 in 1936. Longtime attorney and friend Morris Engelberg said the Yankees told DiMaggio they wanted their three stars to be 3, 4 and 5. "His favorite number was 9, he had nine rings," Engelberg said. He said 'Thirteen years and nine rings, no better percentage in any sport.' "

Uniform No. 5 was not treated with any great reverence by DiMaggio, Engelberg said. "It used to be in a paper bag, then it hung in my closet for many years." When DiMaggio died in 1999, the uniform was sold and the proceeds went to DiMaggio's staff. "He collected nothing but money," Engleberg said.

Engelberg said Steinbrenner approached DiMaggio in the '90s, telling him he wanted to imortalize him in Monument Park. "Joe said, 'I'm still breathing, still alive, I'm not going into a memorial park.' He didn't want it until after he died." DiMaggio died on March 8, 1999. His monument was unveiled April 25 of that year.

COMING SOON?

DEREK JETER Jeter's number could be retired Sept. 7, when he will be given a day as his career draws to a close. The Yankees retired Mariano Rivera's No. 42 last September near the end of his final season.

Several weeks ago, Jeter, who never has worn another number in the big leagues, wondered if he would be asked to speak at his day. Rest assured, he will.

The first Yankee to wear No. 2 was Mark Koenig in 1929. Gail Terry, his daughter, said of Jeter, "My favorite guy, he's the best shortstop. Maybe they'll mention that my dad wore the same number, that would be kind of nice." Koenig was the last remaining member of the '27 Yankees when he died in 1993.

DiMaggio was introduced to Jeter at spring training in 1996, Morris Engelberg said. "George says to Joe, 'we got this kid Jeter. Joe, he's a Hall of Famer.' Joe said. 'How can you say that?' And Joe asked him, 'What's his number?' "

White said Jeter certainly will understand his place in the line of single-digit Yankees. "I think he really realizes it," White said. "You can't be on the Yankees and not know how much that means to have your number up there."

Mike Gallego was the last Yankee before Jeter to wear the number. "It's definitely an honor to be included in the same sentence as Derek Jeter," he said through a spokesman with the A's, for whom he is the third-base coach. "He's been an ambassador of the game for many years, as we all know. It's also a privilege to be part of a trivia question."

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Martin Prado pushes Yankees to victory again as offense finally heats up in 5-3 win over White Sox

The Yanks had not scored more than four runs since Aug. 8, a span of 11 games in which they were 4-7.

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Martin Prado, Friday night’s Yankee hero, scores a sixth inning run past Adrian Nieto during his two-RBI afternoon.

It was hardly a performance that will elevate the Yankees and their struggling offense back to “Bronx Bombers” status.

But Martin Prado had another key hit, Carlos Beltran homered in his return to the lineup and the Yanks did something they hadn’t for more than two weeks in a 5-3 victory over the White Sox Saturday afternoon.

The punchless Yankees scored more than four runs in a game for the first time since Aug. 8, a span of 11 games in which they went 4-7. The outburst, if you can call it that, added some sizzle to a day in which they celebrated Joe Torre’s managerial career and retired his No. 6 jersey in front of a sellout crowd of 47,594 at the Stadium.

Asked if he thought this might prompt a hitting turnaround, Joe Girardi answered as he has multiple times this season: “I hope so.

“I’ve said all along that this offense has the ability to score more runs and they work really hard at it. We put together some good at-bats and took advantage of a miscue on their part. We did a nice job.”

Beltran did not know it had been so long since the Yankees had plated five runs. “That’s baseball, man,” Beltran said.

Prado, who had a walk-off single and a homer Friday night, doubled in two runs in the fourth to snap a 1-1 tie, and Beltran cranked his 15th homer of the year in his first game since missing three with elbow soreness. The Yanks also got some help from Chicago’s poor defense, including a ball lost in the sun by Alejandro De Aza.

The Yankees also did not strike out in a game for the first time since May 12, 2011, a span of 577 games.

Hiroki Kuroda threw six solid innings, allowing two runs and five hits to improve to 9-8 and help keep the Yankees relevant in the race for the American League’s second wild-card spot. They remained 3.5 games behind the Mariners but gained a game on the Tigers, who are two games behind Seattle.

The red-hot Prado says he’s not scoreboard watching or worrying about what fellow contenders are doing. “Just taking care of our stuff,” he said. “We have to get as many wins as we can before the season ends.”

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Joe Torre addresses the Yankee Stadium crowd as his No. 6 is retired.

Prado is certainly doing his part. He finished 3-for-4 Saturday and is 9-for-20 on the home stand. Over his last seven games, he’s batting .444 and leads the team with 12 hits, five doubles, two homers and nine RBI.

“He’s been great,” Beltran said. “He’s a very valuable player. Since Atlanta, he played all those years there, I love the way he played.”

Beltran was 2-for-4, and his fourth-inning single snapped an 0-for-15 skid. He’s not ready to declare his achy right elbow healthy, however. He admitted he doesn’t know if the bone spur that will require surgery after the season is sapping his power and he’s not really eager to discuss it, either.

“I wish I could tell you,” he said. “I’m limited, but at the end of the day, I just don’t want to think about it or talk about it any more.”

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Hiroki Kuroda scatters five hits over six innings, allowing two runs.

Torre was honored before the game with the unveiling of a plaque in Monument Park. His No. 6 is the 17th retired number (for 18 players and managers).

“It’s nice to win on a day when so many people came back,” Girardi said, referring to the ex-Yanks who showed for the ceremony. “Joe meant a ton to all of us, he really did. Jeet (Derek Jeter, whom Girardi gave the day off) talked about him being a second father. I think all of us would talk about him being a mentor to us. He meant a lot to a lot of people and I think you saw that.”

The White Sox tried to play spoiler early on, taking a 1-0 lead against Kuroda, but their defense couldn’t hold it. De Aza’s gaffe in the brightness helped the Yanks score two runs in the fourth, the same inning they ran into two outs on the basepaths.

Shawn Kelley gave up a run in the seventh inning, but Dellin Betances retired Adam Dunn on a fly ball to right with two runners on to end the inning. Adam Warren threw a 1-2-3 eighth and David Robertson slammed the door in the ninth for his 34th save in 36 tries and the Yanks now have a three-game winning streak.

“The energy’s been great,” Beltran said. “We’ve been fighting, trying to win these games. We know how important they are.”

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New York Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda delivers to the Chicago White Sox during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, at Yankee Stadium in New York.

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Ichiro Suzuki of the New York Yankees is forced out at first base by Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox during his third inning ground out at Yankee Stadium on August 23, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

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Chicago White Sox's Jose Abreu, left, is out at second base as New York Yankees shortstop Stephen Drew relays the ball to first to complete the double play on Adam Dunn to end the fifth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, at Yankee Stadium in New York. The Yankees won 5-3.

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New York Yankees' Martin Prado, right, comes in to score past Chicago White Sox catcher Adrian Nieto on a sacrifice fly during the sixth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, at Yankee Stadium in New York. The Yankees won 5-3.

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Yankees sweep White Sox on Brian McCann’s extra-inning walk-off HR

Pinch hitting in the bottom of the 10th inning, McCann slugged a three-run homer off Chicago reliever Jake Petricka.

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Brian McCann plays the hero in the Yankees' 7-4, extra-inning win over the White Sox.

Joe Girardi called it the best win of the year, but the Yankees’ 7-4 victory over the White Sox Sunday afternoon was a bumpy ride until Brian McCann’s winning pinch-hit homer in the 10th inning.

First, it appeared to be yet another day in which the Yanks’ inconsistent offense sputtered, this time against Chicago ace Chris Sale. Then it looked like a gift victory from the baseball gods, when the Yankees took the lead by scoring four unearned runs off Sale thanks to a muffed fly ball by Dayan Viciedo.

Then, gloom: Closer David Robertson blew a save for the first time since June 5, sending the game into extra innings.

Ultimately, though, it ended with a crowd of 43,366 at the Stadium getting raucous as McCann — who was pretty raucous himself judging from his emotional, celebratory fist pump — rounded the bases after whacking a three-run, walk-off shot off Chicago reliever Jake Petricka.

“I was fired up, man,” McCann said. “That’s a moment that ranks up there for me and I was going to let it out.”

The whole team might as well have fist-pumped considering the Yankee mood now after winning their fourth straight, the perfect catapult into a road trip that takes them to three playoff hot spots — Kansas City for a makeup game Monday and then series in Detroit and Toronto. Each team is in the playoff mix, along with the Yanks, who remained 3.5 games out of the second wild-card spot. They also gained another game in the AL East and now trail the Orioles by six games.

“You’re going on a strange trip where you are in one city and play one day, but it’s a much better feeling when you’re leaving (after a thrilling win),” Girardi said.

Asked if Sunday’s victory was the best of the season, Girardi replied, “I think so. Considering who we were facing (Sale, who has a 2.03 ERA), we got down 3-0, we were able to come back, they tie it up and we’re able to win, yeah, I think that’d be fair to say.”

Will it lead to something grand, including October baseball in Derek Jeter’s final season?

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Ichiro Suzuki delivers a key hit in the Yankees' four-run sixth.

Well, the Yankees seem to believe more in the possibilities now, especially because their offense has perked up over the last two days. McCann thinks it goes back even further, into last week, and he referenced the recent meeting of players and coaches.

“Consistently, one through nine, I feel the at-bats have been better,” McCann said. “We all came together as a team and Kevin Long (the hitting coach) had some things to say and we’ve responded really well.”

Sale is so tough on lefties that McCann, Ellsbury and Brett Gardner did not start (Gardner sat because of a sore ankle) and McCann admitted, “You look to hang in there against Sale because you know you’re not going to get a lot.”

The Sox built a 3-0 lead on a leadoff homer by Alexei Ramirez and a two-run shot in the sixth by Conor Gillaspie, both off Yanks starter Chris Capuano. But Viciedo dropped Martin Prado’s fly toward left-center with one out in the sixth, another in a list of Chisox fielding miscues over the weekend, opening the door for the Yanks to take the lead.

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Chris Capuano gives up three runs over six innings of work.

The key blow was a two-run single by Ichiro Suzuki that turned a one-run deficit into a 4-3 lead and also broke Sale’s streak of 27 straight starts without allowing an RBI to a lefty hitter. The last lefty to knock in a run against Sale was Joe Mauer on Aug. 17, 2013, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Sale also gave up an RBI double to Mark Teixeira and had a bout of wildness, walking two and hitting Zelous Wheeler with the bases loaded to force home a run.

But Robertson couldn’t hold the lead, blowing a save for the third time in 37 chances. Chicago’s Avisail Garcia smacked his first pitch of the ninth over the wall in right, tying the score at 4.

Before long, though, the Yankees were partying. McCann was treated to two celebratory baths by teammates before a postgame television interview. “It’s uplifting and it makes you feel very good moving forward,” Girardi said.

“Winning,” McCann added, “cures everything. When you win, the atmosphere’s better, everything’s better. We’re winning. We’re playing better baseball.”

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Brian McCann has his Yankee moment with walk-off home run

The whole 'true Yankee' moment for new players has become the cliché of clichés, yet in this case McCann’s 10th-inning home run, which gave the Yankees a 7-4 victory over the White Sox, seemed to be proof that there is something to it.

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Brian McCann, who has struggled all season, lets all his emotion out after hitting a walk-off home run in the 10th inning.

Finally, this was the Brian McCann that everyone expected, not only delivering a pinch-hit, walk-off home run but throwing fist pumps and screaming in delight as he rounded the bases, showing the fiery emotion for which he became known as an Atlanta Brave.

All season McCann has given off the feeling that he wasn’t quite comfortable enough as a Yankee — perhaps largely because he wasn’t hitting as expected — to show too much of that emotion.

Then on Sunday, it was as if the huge home run allowed him to unburden himself.

“I was fired up,” he said with a smile. “Rounding the bases, it was definitely a moment I’ll never forget. I was going to let it out.”

The whole “true Yankee” moment for new players has become the cliché of clichés, yet in this case McCann’s 10th-inning home run, which gave the Yankees a 7-4 victory over the White Sox, seemed to be proof that there is something to it.

“The passion that runs through this clubhouse and this stadium,” he said, “that’s what you play for. That’s why you come here.”

The words resonated at least partly because a perception has lingered that McCann isn’t the New York type — a perception that his former hitting coach, Terry Pendleton, claimed to be the case.

McCann has insisted otherwise, and while he remains “good friends” with Pendleton, he said on Sunday that “if (Pendleton) had it to do over again, I don’t think he would have said that. I like everything about being here.”

Even so, it’s fair to say that McCann has been guarded and often brief with the media this season, but on this day he stood and answered questions for so long that he finally announced, “I need to sit down,” and collapsed in the chair in front of his locker.

And still he continued talking. The interview went on for so long that Yankees’ PR director Jason Zillo came over from the other side of the clubhouse out of curiosity.

“What’s going on over here, anyway?” Zillo asked, loudly enough to get a chuckle out of McCann.

Yes, the mood was light and loose in the Yankee clubhouse, and why not? Somehow they had found a way to win on a day when they were losing 3-0 after five innings to Chris Sale, the nastiest lefthander in baseball, to make it four straight wins and give themselves reason again to believe they can put together a big September as they chase a wild-card berth.

Joe Girardi called it the biggest win of the season and his players were quick to agree.

Of course, it’s worth remembering these were the White Sox they swept, a dreadful team that made a month’s worth of mental and physical errors in this three-game series.

And indeed, it was a dropped fly ball by left fielder Dayan Viciedo with one out in the sixth inning that opened the door for a four-run Yankee rally, with Ichiro Suzuki delivering a two-run single for a 4-3 lead.

That was no small feat, considering that when the day began lefthanded hitters were hitting .135 off Sale this season. In fact, Ichiro was the only lefty in the Yankee lineup, in part because he’s a .330 lifetime hitter against southpaws.

He had two hits off Sale on this day, and his single in the sixth was really the biggest hit of the game. It looked to be the game-winner until David Robertson gave up an opposite-field home run to Avisail Garcia in the ninth.

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McCann receives a Gatorade bath after finally getting his 'true Yankee' moment.

So there was McCann, an inning later, called on to pinch-hit, going to a 3-2 count against righthanded reliever Jake Petricka.

Petricka is a hard thrower but the scouting report says he’ll use his changeup in critical situations, and McCann had already seen a couple of changeups in the at-bat.

“I wasn’t looking for it there,” McCann said, “but I had it in my mind that he might throw it.”

Sure enough, McCann stayed back on an 86-mph changeup and lined it into the right-field seats, then seemed to unleash all of that emotion he has been storing all season.

Whether it frees him up for a hot final stretch run remains to be seen. But McCann said there’s a different feeling among the Yankee hitters since they got together with hitting coach Kevin Long after losing two straight to the Astros earlier in the week.

“We’re playing some really good baseball since then and taking better at-bats,” said McCann. “We all came together as a team. Kevin had something to say and we’ve responded really well.

“We’re just grinding a little more, I guess.”

In McCann’s case, you wonder if it’s just the opposite. He has been grinding all season, searching for the stroke that made him worth $85 million to the Yankees. Now, who knows, maybe he’ll relax a little and find it.

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New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, back right, watches as Yankees second baseman Brendan Ryan, front right, tags out Chicago White Sox's Carlos Sanchez (77) after Sanchez was caught off base in the third inning of a baseball game at Yankee Stadium in New York, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014.

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Jacoby Ellsbury of the New York Yankees steals second base in the ninth inning ahead of the tag from Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox as umpire Mike Muchlinski makes the call at Yankee Stadium on August 24, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

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New York Yankees' Brian McCann hits a 10-inning three-run home run off Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Jake Petricka in a baseball game at Yankee Stadium in New York, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014.

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Brian McCann of the New York Yankees follows through on his tenth inning game winning three run home run against the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium on August 24, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

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Yankees erupt for eight runs while Michael Pineda silences Royals bats as Bombers win fifth straight game

The Yankees scored six runs against James Shields over 6.2 innings, continuing their success against the Royals ace. Shields is now 9-16 with a 4.33 ERA in 30 career starts.

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Martin Prado continues to swing a hot bat, hitting a solo home run in the seventh.

KANSAS CITY – Forget October. The Yankees are already in postseason mode.

“For us it’s playoff time, in a sense,” Joe Girardi said before Monday night’s makeup game against the Royals. “We have to catch people, so it’s playoff time.”

Michael Pineda got the road trip started on the right note, pitching the Yankees to an 8-1 win over the first-place Royals, extending their winning streak to five games while moving them seven games over .500 to match their season-high.

Pineda (3-2) allowed one run over 6.1 innings, winning for the first time since April 16. He gave up five hits and didn’t walk a batter, striking out five.

“It seems like when he’s able to take the ball, that’s what he does,” Brian McCann said. “When he takes the mound, he’s as good as it gets.”

Jacoby Ellsbury homered and drove in three runs, one of five different Yankees with an RBI. Stephen Drew’s fourth-inning home run snapped a 1-1 tie in the fourth, while Martin Prado’s solo homer sparked a four-run seventh that helped the Yankees break the game open.

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Michael Pineda picks up his first win since April, pitching 6 1/3 innings while only allowing one earned run.

The Bombers reached the seven-run mark in consecutive games for only the second time this season, the other coming in a pair of losses to the Mets on May 12-13.

“At this point in the season, we’re trying to win every game we play,” McCann said. “Tonight was no exception. When you’re chasing teams, that’s the mindset you have to have.”

One day after coming back against Chris Sale in a win over the White Sox, the Yankees scored six runs against James Shields over 6.2 innings.

“We’ve beaten two really good pitchers the last two days, and we’re going to see another one (Tuesday),” Girardi said, referring to Detroit’s Rick Porcello. “We swung the bats extremely well tonight and got contributions from everyone up and down the lineup.”

The win moved the Yankees within 2-1/2 games of the Mariners in the race for the second AL wild card, after Seattle lost to Texas Monday night. The Yankees also moved within two games of the Tigers as the two teams prepare for a three-game set in Detroit. They remained six games behind Baltimore, which beat Tampa Bay, in the AL East.

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Stephen Drew puts the Yankees ahead with a solo home run in the fourth inning.

“It’s definitely great momentum,” Ellsbury said. “If we can continue to play very good baseball, this team will have a great shot at the end.”

That’s especially true if Pineda continues to improve each time out. The righthander established new season-highs in both innings (6.1) and pitches (96), throwing 70 of those 96 for strikes.

Aside from Mike Moustakas’ leadoff home run in the third, Pineda was sharp all night. Pineda retired 10 in a row after Moustakas tied the game, allowing the Yankees regain the lead before blowing it open in the late innings.

“After the homer, I tried to be a little more aggressive in the count,” Pineda said. “It’s been a long time without throwing 95 pitches in a game. I had very good energy in the seventh inning.”

The Yankees entered the seventh clinging to a 2-1 lead, but Prado opened the frame with a solo homer. Ellsbury added an RBI single later in the inning, the 1,000th hit of his career.

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Derek Jeter gets in on the action, hitting an RBI single in his final game in Kansas City.

The Yankees went on to score four times in the seventh as Derek Jeter and McCann drove in a run apiece. McCann’s sac fly was initially ruled a double play as home-plate umpire Lance Barrett called Ellsbury out at the plate on Lorenzo Cain’s throw.

But Girardi challenged the call, which was overturned, allowing Ellsbury to score the Yankees’ sixth run. Girardi has challenged 24 times this season, getting 19 of them overturned.

Pineda came back out for the seventh with a healthy lead, something he hadn’t had all season. The Yankees had scored 12 runs combined in his first six starts, scoring as many as four runs only once.

After recording the first out, Pineda gave up a double to Salvador Perez, bringing Girardi out of the dugout to remove his starter. David Huff got through the rest of the inning before pitching the eighth and ninth to close the game.

“Are we good again?” Jeter said when asked about the team’s winning streak. “You just have to keep battling. We’ve played well the last few days, but we have to continue it. We’re playing some good teams. There’s room for improvement. Hopefully we can get hot.”

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Michael Pineda of the New York Yankees throws in the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on August 25, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri.

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Ichiro Suzuki of the New York Yankees slides into home to score past Salvador Perez of the Kansas City Royals in the seventh inning at Kauffman Stadium on August 25, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri.

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Jacoby Ellsbury of the New York Yankees hits a RBI single in the seventh inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on August 25, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri.

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