NEW YORK -- Four top contenders. Thirteen games. One opposing pitcher punching himself in the face.
After taking two of three from the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees finished the most challenging stretch of their regular-season schedule Thursday night ... with an .846 winning percentage.
Since April 27, when this test started in Anaheim, the Yankees have posted not only the best winning percentage in baseball, but the best run differential (plus-30). And, when it really counted, they hit .294 with runners in scoring position -- first in the AL and second in the majors.
"It's a pretty good team," pitcher CC Sabathia said with a laugh. "A young team. It's fun to be around."
Sabathia and the Yankees' starting pitchers certainly have had a lot of fun lately, posting the best strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.9-1) in the bigs during this run, plus the second-best opponent batting average (.201) and WHIP (0.93), and fourth-best ERA (2.63).
Still, the numbers tell only a fraction of the story. Here's a series-by-series look at how the first-place Yankees overcame the Los Angeles Angels, Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians and Red Sox to go 11-2 -- and send a message to the American League.
Series 1: Angels
The setup: The Yankees had won six straight entering the series, but most of those wins were thanks to a four-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins, whom, historically, they've owned. But the true test would be 13 games against the four (other) AL teams with the best odds of making the playoffs, starting with Mike Trout's Angels.
The result: A three-game sweep in Anaheim.
Most memorable moment: Didi Gregorius, who would later be named April's American League Player of the Month, not only won Game 1 with a 10th-inning home run, he took a curtain call -- on the road.
"It was a little weird for me," Gregorius said. "There were a lot of fans here. I didn't expect that, to be honest. ... [My teammates] told me to give the fans what they wanted. Especially the guy right here [Aaron Judge]."
Sir Didi's (conspicuously Didi-free) Game 1 recap:
Series stat to know: The sweep in Anaheim was their first on the road against the Angels since July 2003.
Required reading: Yankees' emoji master, Didi Gregorius, is on :fire: »
Series 2: Astros
The setup: Sure, they swept the Angels, running their winning streak to nine games. But these were the Astros, the defending champs. And this was Houston, where the Yankees were beaten four times in last year's American League Championship Series. Good luck!
The result: Won three out of four in Houston.
Most memorable moment: Gary Sanchez's three-run, ninth-inning home run off Ken Giles delivered the KO for the Yankees in Game 2. But that apparently wasn't enough of a blow for Giles, who then punched himself in the face on his way back to the dugout.
"Obviously, because I just screwed up a win," Giles said, by way of explanation. "We should have won this game. We should have bounced back. I didn't give our team a chance. Of course I'm going to be frustrated over that."
Sir Didi's Game 2 recap:
Series stat to know: The Yankees held Houston without a run for a span of 28 innings, the Astros' longest scoreless streak since 1992.
Required reading: The Yankees are who we thought they were »
Series 3: Indians
The setup: OK, maybe this team is for real. Just three games to go before a shot at the Red Sox; will it be a fight for first place or just another May series against Boston? Trouncing the Tribe means setting up a spring classic.
The result: A three-game sweep in the Bronx.
Most memorable moment: In Game 3, second baseman Gleyber Torres -- at 21 years, 144 days -- becomes the youngest Yankee ever to hit a walk-off home run. The previous record-holder? Just some 21-year, 185-day-old outfielder named Mickey Mantle.
"Everybody knew the kind of talent that Gleyber has. That's not a secret," Sanchez said. "For me, he's just doing what he knows to do, which is play good baseball."
Sir Didi's Game 3 recap:
Series stat to know: The Yankees' Game 3 comeback -- featuring three runs in the eighth and four more in the ninth -- marked their first win after trailing by four or more runs entering the bottom of the eighth inning in nearly two years (June 29, 2016, versus the Rangers).
Required reading: Gleyber Torres latest walk-off hero for red-hot Yanks »
Series 4: Red Sox
The setup: The rivalry is as intense as it has ever been this early in a season. Both teams came in with .700-plus winning percentages -- marking the latest in any season the two would square off with those numbers. Could the Yankees win the series and take a share of first place in the AL East ... or maybe even sole possession of it?
The result: Won two out of three in the Bronx.
Most memorable moment: Pick just about any moment. Yankee Stadium is so raucous, it felt like October, starting from Game 1, particularly in the seventh inning, when Boston brawler Joe Kelly trotted in from the bullpen to a chorus of boos and then gave up a tiebreaking single to Judge. But here's one particularly epic sequence: In a see-saw Game 2, the crowd erupted as Brett Gardner's eighth-inning, two-run triple off Boston closer Craig Kimbrel zoomed way over center fielder Mookie Betts' head to put the Yankees up for good and seal the series win. As if that wasn't enough, Betts had no chance to make a play when the next batter, Judge, hit a ball into Monument Park.
"It's May, and it's bedlam," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
Sir Didi's Game 2 recap:
Series stat to know: On April 20, the Bombers trailed Boston by 7½ games in the AL East. Since then, they've gone 17-2 and have pulled dead even with the Red Sox atop the AL East. At 26-11, the rivals -- who have split their season series so far, 3-3 -- now share MLB's best record.
Required reading: 'This place is alive': Yanks, Sox turn May into October »
The Yankees start a three-game set Friday night at home against Oakland (UPDATE: The Bombers won two of three) before hitting the road to play Washington, Kansas City and Texas, a far less daunting stretch -- at least on paper.