ST. LOUIS -- It sometimes seems forgotten, but the Yankees are playing without their Opening Day starter, their No. 3 starter and their No. 5 starter (who had been pitching like an ace). They don't have their starting right fielder, and for the past three games, they played without their starting first baseman.
They began their latest nine-game road trip by losing three of four and easily could have dropped four of four, but, you know, the Cubs are the Cubs. So to end the trip by winning four of the last five -- including two of three at Busch -- is not too shabby.
"That's a good trip," Joe Girardi said after the Yankees beat the Cardinals 7-4 to finish five up and four down on the two-city, three-team roadie.
The Yankees are winning from the back to the front. Mariano Rivera might not be around, but their bullpen is still thriving. David Robertson might have blown his first save opportunity of the trip, but he came back the next day and picked up the second.
Dellin Betances is not only a candidate to make the All-Star team but also possibly the most intimidating reliever in baseball right now. Besides Alfredo Aceves (though even he picked up a win the other night, despite being hit hard), the Yankees' relievers are making it possible for the team to win late and often because the pen is deep.
"We are feeding off each other," Betances said.
Betances is the biggest reason the Yankees (28-24) have somewhat overcome their losses. The only fear now -- and one Girardi showed is a concern of his -- is overusing him. That's why Betances only threw one pitch in the win Wednesday; Girardi was limiting his giant righty to one out.
Betances was still going to accept his paycheck. "I threw 10 warmup pitches," he said with a big smile.
With CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda, the Yankees are winning with a starting staff that includes, after Masahiro Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda (who got the win Wednesday), David Phelps, Chase Whitley and Vidal Nuno.
What is has been is tight baseball. The Yankees won three extra-inning games on the trip. They lost two one-run games.
"We played some long games," Derek Jeter said.
Like the rest of the season, this trip had many nostalgic tributes to Jeter, even if he didn't have much history in the parks. At Wrigley, there were four "final" standing ovations, as Jeter's last game on the North Side stretched into extra innings. Against the White Sox, all the Jeter love had even his buddy, White Sox manager Robin Ventura, calling the whole thing "weird."
On Wednesday, many among the sellout crowd -- maybe all of them -- were disappointed that Jeter had the night off. Prior to the seventh inning, the Cardinals showed a video tribute to him. Jeter acknowledged it by coming out to wave to the fans. Even the Cardinals players were clapping in their dugout. Jeter made sure to acknowledge them as well.
"The fans have been great here, so I was glad I had a chance to thank them," Jeter said.
As the players packed up for the after-midnight flight east, they admitted to being a little spent. But they were going home and -- all things considered -- were feeling pretty good.