World Series or bust? Sure feels like that for Yankees

The Yankees can’t win a World Series in June. That opportunity has to wait another four months.

But what is possible? Playing championship-caliber baseball, mowing through the American League East, setting up an October to remember.

So as the victories continue to pile up at a record clip, the Yankees never really have much to say about historic home winning streaks, or an ever-multiplying division lead, or the meaning of all these late-spring braces.

They seem to realize, even at this early stage, just how hollow a season like this would be without a World Series ring. And being that driven, to crave the next win more than enjoy anything that came before, is the price of greatness.

“We’re not satisfied with just winning the division,” Aaron Judge said this week. “We want to go out there and bring a championship back. I think with that in our mindset, each and every single day, that’s what’s kind of pushing us all here.”

Typically, a division crown is the jumping-off point. Beyond that lies the great playoff unknown. So during the course of a long, methodical, 162-game season, players tend to narrow their vision. Looking too far ahead is a fruitless, and often disappointing, exercise. But it’s not as if the Yankees aren’t fixed on the daily task at hand. They just refuse to spend much time gazing in the rear-view mirror.

The Yankees were 46-16 heading into Thursday’s series finale against the Rays, tying them for the fourth-best start through 62 games in franchise history. All four of those teams won the World Series.

Since 1930, six previous MLB teams have won 46 games or more through the first 62. Five went on to become world champs — the sixth was the 2001 Mariners, who lost to the Yankees in the ALCS.

Noticing a trend here? It’s definitely not lost on the ’22 Yankees, who already have turned the AL East race into a rout by building a nine-game lead over the Blue Jays and 11 over the fading Rays before Thursday’s game. Thirty games over .500 is a ridiculous pace to set (next-best was the Mets, at 18 over) but these Yankees have made it feel like a new normal, just as the ’98 team did en route to 114 wins and a World Series title.

“We were just talking about it in the lunch room — we don’t expect anything less with this group of guys we have here,” said Nestor Cortes, the team’s breakthrough star (6-2, 1.94 ERA). “It’s pretty special and I think we can continue to do good things.”

You can just picture Cortes & Co. hanging in the back, sipping post-game cappuccinos, chuckling over another conquest. The Rays were supposed to be the first big hurdle of this upcoming 13-game steeplechase, but ended up being just another hapless foe, kicking the ball around and scoring only one earned run in the first two losses. Gerrit Cole stuffed them in Tuesday’s opener and Cortes kept them down just long enough Wednesday night for Kyle Higashioka to deliver the eventual game-winner: a three-run homer after Isiah Kiner-Falefa was intentionally walked in front of him.

Giving Higgy some high-octane revenge fuel turned out to be a pivotal mistake, especially with his frustrating first two months. But it’s not like the Yankees need any additional motivation. Whether he’s Judge (25 HRs) hammering the tone with his MVP-worthy performance, or the rotation stifling opponents deep into games, or Clay Holmes turning into the sport’s most unhittable closer, the Yankees’ grinding determination never seems to take a night off.

“Yes, we want to win a championship and that’s what we’re all focused on,” Aaron Boone said Thursday afternoon. “But I do feel like they’re doing a great job of just being obsessed with today. What we’ve done already, we understand we put ourselves in a good position now to have a really good season. But we also understand that’s all we’ve done.

“I think it’s a really confident group. It’s a group that really leans on each other, trusts each other, holds each other to account. It’s about winning… We understand we’ve done nothing yet.”

Nothing may be a little strong. Before Thursday, the Yankees were 21-10 against the AL East, including 16-5 in their last 21 — the best record of any AL team within its division. Their 28-7 home record was tops in the majors, and the 13-game winning streak at the Stadium matched their longest in the Bronx since 1962 (also done in 1973).

MLB’s best-run differential (plus-130), tied for first in comeback wins (17) and crushing the rest of baseball in a number of offensive categories. All of it just makes the Hungarian Yankees for what’s ahead.

“We’re worried about the next game,” Judge said.

And that won’t end until a Game 7 in early November, if it comes to that.


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