NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees aren't making this easy for anyone. Not for their fans, not for their ownership, not for the people entrusted with making their personnel decisions, and not for the people who are paid to report daily on what they could/should/might/will/won't do at the upcoming trade deadline.
Most of all, they are not making it easy for themselves.
Just when it appeared that we could all agree on a course of action come Aug. 1 -- Sell! Sell!! SELL!!! -- they go and win four in a row, including three straight from the Baltimore Orioles, knocking the O's into a tie with the Boston Red Sox atop the American League East.
Wednesday night's 5-0 win at Yankee Stadium vaulted the Yankees to a pinnacle they haven't seen since April 12. Even if it is a modest achievement to be two games over .500, it at least indicates that there might be some life left in this aging, overpaid, underperforming roster.
And if they can pull off a sweep in Thursday afternoon's finale, and the Red Sox lose to the Minnesota Twins, the Yankees will find themselves just 4 1/2 games out of first place, nearer than they've been to the promised land since April 27 and, believe it or not, closer to first place than their crosstown rival Mets, who only went to the World Series last year.
So what to do with this team? The head says sell, the heart says hell, play it out and see how far they can take this.
Since returning to action after the All-Star break, Yankees pitchers have thrown 45 scoreless innings out of 54 played. They have allowed 13 runs (12 earned) in the six games played for a team ERA of 2.00, and they have now allowed one run or less in four straight games for the first time in nearly 13 years. The bullpen hasn't allowed a run in 28 2/3 innings, and the names aren't just Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, but guys like Anthony Swarzak, Nick Goody and Chasen Shreve.
And, for the third time in his past five starts, Michael Pineda pitched like the guy the Yankees thought they had acquired when they sent top prospect Jesus Montero to the Mariners before the 2012 season. For much of this season, it looked like a trade that had actually harmed both sides -- Montero is a washout -- but when Pineda stranded the bases loaded by striking out Nolan Reimold and Ryan Flaherty to end the fourth inning Wednesday night, you felt a shiver of hope that the 27-year-old righty might still achieve his potential after all.
But that wasn't all. Mark Teixeira, suffering through a season he called "brutal" and "terrible" before the game, blasted the first pitch he saw in the fourth inning for a home run after having missed the previous three games with a sore foot.
Carlos Beltran, tops on everyone's list to be an ex-Yankee if the fire sale does materialize, belted a home run, too, his 20th, in the eighth inning. But it was his push bunt up the third-base line for a base hit, foiling the shift, in the sixth inning that really got everyone's attention. It is the kind of thing Teixeira refuses to try and Brian McCann, another frequent shift victim, is incapable of pulling off, but it showed that even a veteran like Beltran is neither too proud nor too stubborn to lay one down for the team.
It was the kind of effort that -- for one night anyway -- makes you forget all the horrific nights the Yankees have already had this season, all the lifeless efforts from their offense and all the ineffectual outings from their starting pitching that has kept them hopelessly mediocre to this point.
And it tempts you to go against what all logic tells you -- that this team should divest itself of as many assets as it can dump off in 10 days and reload for the future, which might be three or four years down the road -- and just go for it over these final three months of the season.
"We know we can play with the best," Teixeira said. "These guys have been at the top of our division most of the year. We know if we play our A-game that we can beat good teams. We’re going to have to if we want to stay in this thing. We have a lot of games against the East opponents, guys that are above us. We need to win these games."
Before the game, Teixeira admitted that he scans a particular baseball website each day to keep abreast of the trade rumors because, like everyone else in the Yankees' clubhouse, he knows the group in there today might be very different from the group in there 10 days from now.
"You’ve got to go out there and play every day, and it doesn’t matter who’s going to be here or who’s not going to be here because that’s all out of our control," he had said before adding: "We obviously want to make a run together as a team."
Maybe they'll get the chance. Joe Girardi, who admitted he manages every game as if it's the seventh game of the World Series, might now have to start managing like it's the eighth game. There really aren't many more times he can fall back on the old "We've got to start winning ballgames" line, because that time has long passed.
Finally, the Yankees are winning ballgames. Now, they have to figure out a way to stop losing ballgames. They've already done enough of that this season.
"We know that with the situation looming that it’s really important as we move forward," Girardi said, using the word "situation" as a euphemism for "sell-off." "We know we have to play extremely well. In a sense, it’s playoff baseball for us."
It's the playoff to get to the playoffs for the Yankees. For the first time all season, it doesn't even feel like a joke.