By Ernie Palladino
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The history of baseball is chock full of late-season collapses, from the Dodgers in 1951 to the ‘64 Phillies to the 2007 Mets. And Bobby Valentine, whose team’s choke last season led to his hiring, said he sees no reason such an epic slide shouldn’t hit the Yankees and create an opportunity for his last-place Red Sox.

Just before Boston’s 3-2 victory Sunday in Yankee Stadium, Valentine told one columnist that he can certainly envision the Yanks falling off the cliff in the final two full months of the season, despite their 6 ½-game lead over second-place Baltimore after Monday’s 5-4 setback against those same Orioles.

As the inventor of the sport — just ask him, he’ll tell you — Valentine sees all and knows all. Always has.

But this time, he’s probably seeing it wrong, despite the Pinstripers’ three-game losing streak.

For one thing, the Red Sox aren’t going anywhere. Too many problems, too many injuries on that team. They’ll be lucky to finish within spitting distance of the second wild card spot. With Carl Crawford limited to four days of usage because of an elbow that probably will necessitate Tommy John surgery after the season, and with David Ortiz needing more time to come back from a July 16 Achilles tendon injury, among other dings and dents in the roster, the Red Sox aren’t physically strong enough to overcome the hurts in the long run.

They’re not the Yankees, in other words.

The Yanks can lose an Alex Rodriguez for six to eight weeks and survive. Though they nearly lost his main replacement, Eric Chavez, when the Red Sox hit him in the shin with the pitch Friday, Chavez can play the position. He just broke out of an 0-for-12 slump with a 2-for-3, two-RBI outing against the Orioles that included a homer, and he’s solid enough that the Yanks can get by with him.

The power is still coming, as the Yanks hit three homers in a losing cause Monday. And providing today’s MRI on Mark Teixeira’s injured wrist doesn’t show up something big, there’s no reason a lineup that still sports Robbie Cano, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Ichiro and a resurgent Russell Martin shouldn’t continue its powerful ways. They can get by without Tex for a few days.

They lost Mariano Rivera early, but Rafael Soriano has filled that spot nicely with 26 saves in 28 opportunities. Andy Pettitte goes out, Freddy Garcia comes from bullpen exile and does a decent job, keeping his team in a July 24 start against Seattle into the eighth inning and throwing six innings of three-run ball against the Orioles.

Though they could certainly use Pettitte at this point, a setback in his rehab from a broken ankle could make a September return undo-able. Still, if worse came to worst, they could always try Joba Chamberlain in the rotation, or in the shaky bullpen. He’s almost ready to return from his own issues, no doubt with a promise to stay off trampolines and other such instruments of destruction.

The Yanks still have plenty of ammo for the stretch run, losing streaks and now a 6 ½-game lead notwithstanding.

Valentine? Well, he has to ask himself, how long can he ride Pedro Ciriaco, particularly since all his production seems to come against the Yanks exclusively.

Joe Girardi may no longer have the most dominant team in the American League now that their newest arch-rival, Texas, has all but caught up to them on the win column. But they should certainly remain strong enough to control the division, and that’s the important thing. They, unlike Boston, won’t be thinking wildcard come late September.

There’s always the possibility that Valentine could prove himself half-right, however. It won’t be the Red Sox sitting atop the AL East — perhaps he had visions of the Yanks’ collapse from up 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS dancing in his head. But that history shows that collapses are possible. The Yanks could blow through August, a month where no pennant is won but plenty are lost, and head into September with a healthy lead, and then fall apart like the Mets in ‘07, when they lost a seven-game lead to the Phillies on Sept. 12.

That franchise went 5-12 in its final 17 games, including 1-6 on their season-ending homestand against the Nationals, Cardinals, and Marlins to finish one game back.

It could happen. History shows it. Valentine knows it.

He knows all.

But it probably won’t.

Figure that the Yanks will win the division and Bobby V will watch the postseason on TV.

Just a feeling.

Do you think Valentine was way off base with his playoff musings? Be heard in the comments below!

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