‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

While much of New York continued to bask in the afterglow of Johan Santana’s no-hitter, look what the Yankees have done.

In what is arguably the toughest division in baseball, Joe Girardi’s group found themselves a half-game out of the division lead, leap-frogging over Tampa Bay with a 4-1 victory behind Ivan Nova. And that’s saying something in an AL East in which only two games separate fourth-place Toronto from Baltimore’s slim lead.

They’ve won 10 of 13 and five of six. And they’ve reached this spot without two closers, which should tell you something about the late-innings depth of this team. No Mo. No David Robertson.

Yet, Rafael Soriano, a real question mark coming into the season, has reeled off eight saves in as many opportunities since Robertson’s last appearance May 9.

Robertson, by the way, is still eight or nine days from returning, but he’s already lost the closer’s spot to Soriano. It won’t matter. As we all know, being a good setup man is almost as important as closing in this day and age. And it also helps that both Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte, and last night’s winner Ivan Nova, saved that bullpen from overuse; Hughes with that complete-game four-hitter Sunday and Pettitte with 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball Tuesday started the ball rolling, and Nova continued it with eight innings of one-run pitching.

A little offense helped there, of course. With the bats supporting Pettitte with seven runs, there was no need to call upon Soriano. It gave Girardi a chance to throw exiled starter Freddy Garcia, who hadn’t tossed a pitch in anger since May 21, a span of 14 days.

Bullpens need these sort of back-to-back deals. And back-to-back-to-back is even better. They give the key guys a nice rest. With Santana slated to pitch the Subway Series opener tomorrow, Soriano will certainly be needed as runs may be hard to come by.

Soriano has been a nice surprise, even though many might say that a guy relegated to setup duty after signing a closer-ish three-year, $35 million deal before 2011 should never be considered as such. But let’s face it. His 45 saves for the Rays in 2010 is a long time ago, now.

It also helps that the Yanks’ power numbers are where they generally are, at the top. Their 83 homers after Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano went long last night lead the majors.

Regarding Soriano, the offense has been good enough that he has had to protect a one-run lead only twice, the others being two or three-run leads.

Managers love that little cushion. No agita.

The biggest deal is the Yanks’ positioning at this point, however. They’re still not hitting consistently with men on, unless you count Russell Martin’s grand slam Tuesday night.

There is a lot of “getting done” around here lately, what with the Giants getting it done with Osi Umenyiora’s and Tom Coughlin’s contracts, and I’ll Have Another’s potential to get it done Saturday as a 4-to-5 favorite to win the Belmont, labor issues allowing. Hey, even the Devils figured out a way to live another day on the Kings’ home ice.

The Yankees, too, are getting it done in a wide-open division right now.

Will the Yankees secure NYC bragging rights and the top spot in the AL East this weekend? Be heard in the comments below!

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