Yanks Hang Tough to Hang in First

Yankees remain in tie for first after 5-4 win shows their mettle

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Even while hobbling off, the Captain pointed the team in the right direction.

    You can knock the 2012 Yankees for a lot of different things, but you can't knock their toughness. 

    We've seen signs of the steel in their collective backbone many times this season, all the way back to the way they watched the greatest closer in the history of baseball fall for the season and then simply went back to work. Injuries have robbed the team of so much talent that you wouldn't blame them for curling up into a ball, closing their eyes and hoping for the pain to stop.

    Going to sleep when times are tough is a popular response. Just ask Mike Francesca.  

    They haven't done that, though. They've kept playing, kept asking different players to contribute and kept their eyes pointed forward while Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Brett Gardner and others have missed large chunks of the season. 

    And then came Wednesday night, when it looked like they might have lost the one guy whose absence might actually cause the whole thing to come crashing down at this most tenuous moment of the season. Derek Jeter limped off the field after trying to beat out a double play and, one more time, breath was held in every corner of the Yankees universe. 

    Watching Jeter limp off the field isn't quite like watching other people limp off the field. With every step you can see him figuring out a way to manage the pain in a way that makes it possible for him to limp less even though the pain remains the same, a bit of acting that sends a very clear message that it doesn't matter how much it hurts as long as you don't let yourself believe that it hurts. 

    The Yankees have followed Jeter's lead all season. His unshakably placid demeanor makes it impossible for anyone else on the team to treat anything as an insurmountable obstacle, something that isn't true of a team like the Red Sox that seemed to simply look for the first opportunity to quit this season. 

    The Yankees haven't quit and it doesn't feel like too much of a stretch to suggest that Jeter's presence as the leader is the biggest reason for the ability to grind through the bad over and over again. Without him, the face of the team is the increasingly tense Joe Girardi and we'll bet that Jeter's cool breeze is a better way to keep the team pointed forward over the long run. 

    And that makes the prospect of losing him, even for a week, a very scary one indeed. It doesn't seem to be one the Yankees will actually have to deal with, Jeter said he's playing, but it did provide another reason to admire what the Captain has done this season.

    The Yankees held on for a 5-4 win thanks to David Phelps coming up bigger on the mound than a lot of his more experienced peers have come up in recent weeks. Curtis Granderson remembered that he was a power hitter with a pair of homers and Robinson Cano went deep too to outlast a game Red Sox team that played with more of an edge than they've shown most of the season. 

    It made you wonder what their season would be like if they had a guy like Jeter leading the way for them and it made you happy to remember that the Yankees do. 

    Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.

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