By Ernie Palladino
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This is the way it has gone virtually the whole season.

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This is the way it will go the final three weeks.

The Yankees hit home runs, they win.

The Yankees don’t hit home runs, they lose.

Clutch hitting is not in their general repertoire this year, as we have seen the last two games in Boston. On Tuesday, they went 1 for 12 with men in scoring position and lost 4-3.

Home runs are about all they have, and Wednesday night they hit three of them to account for all five runs in a 5-4 squeaker that kept them in a first-place tie with Baltimore.

They obviously have some pitching in David Phelps, whose 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball helped the Yanks put off their late-season nosedive for one more game. And wasn’t that a nice way to debut at Fenway Park?

But with Mark Teixeira out of the lineup, perhaps even out of the season, and Alex Rodriguez still working his way back into it, the Yanks have little hope of winning without the long ball. And that is going to hurt, for this is the point in the season where a well-placed single can help a squad as much as a 450-foot shot into the right field bleachers.

The long balls came Wednesday night, and it didn’t much matter that Derek Jeter grounded into an inning-ending double play with the Red Sox within two runs in the eighth. Or that they went 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position, making them 1-for-25 over the last two games.

Sound familiar? Think back to the first half of the season.

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Only now, it’s a fight for survival at the top of the AL East , where some weird stuff could happen if the standings remain static. The last thing the Yanks need is to fall into that fourth or fifth playoff spot where they will play, in effect, a 163rd game to determine if they get to compete any further in the real playoff format. If playing a five-game ALDS is a chancy proposition for any team, imagine what dangers a one-game playoff presents for a team that has lived and died by the homer the better part of the season.

It could happen, too. The Yanks and Baltimore entered Wednesday night not only tied for the division lead, but tied for that final playoff spot. Were the season to end this way, they’d have to face each other in that one-game playoff. And it’s likely Baltimore would have the edge, simply because of their overall health.

The way things stand now, second place in the AL East would force that team into the one-game play-in.

So one can see the spot in which the Yanks sit. It’s not comfortable; certainly not cozy enough to take Nick Swisher’s constant assertions that all is well, all is well, seriously. But at least the big lumber came alive temporarily to keep the Yanks from losing the division lead entirely, as Baltimore beat Tampa Bay 3-2.

There was Curtis Granderson and Robbie Cano producing three runs on two homers off Aaron Cook in the fourth. And then there was Granderson again, this time with a two-run shot in the seventh off Alfredo Aceves.

Throw in a questionable strike three from Rafael Soriano in the eighth that got both Cody Ross and manager Bobby Valentine invited to the showers, and the completion of that four-out save by said reliever, albeit after Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s ninth-inning noise, and the Yanks survived another day.

How many of these things can they withstand?

As long as the lineup continues to produce homers in bunches, let’s say just enough.

It would just make things a lot easier if they got a clutch hit or two with runners in scoring position down this final stretch.

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Yankees fans, obviously you want Jeter & Co. to take the AL East. But do you really think they’ll hang on? Be heard in the comments below!