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ALDS: Yankees 'really had to work' for AL East crown

The Yankees had to play right to the final day of the season to earn the American League East title. Will that rejuvenate the aging Yankees, or has it worn them out?

The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Thursday on WFAN radio that the American League East champion Yankees "really had to work for it." That, of course, is true. The Yankees did not win the division until Wednesday, the regular season's final day.

Even just knowing that fact, however, doesn't tell the whole story. Here is a little more of the story of the 2012 Yankees season, from YES Network:

Think about it. Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner, Joba Chamberlain, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Andy Pettitte were either lost for the season or for big chunks. The Yankees endured a two-month stretch during which they went 24-29. A 10-game lead on July 18 vanished completely on September 4, with both team and manager feeling the pressure of not slipping into a sudden-death wild card game - if not missing the playoffs all together. The starting rotation went hot and cold. The failure to deliver with runners in scoring position was close to becoming the 2012 Yankees' epitaph.

Suddenly, in the middle of September, the Yankees reeled off seven straight wins, topped off when they rallied from four runs down in the 13th inning before defeating the Oakland A's in 14 on September 22. Instead of buckling under the intense heat of a potential collapse - which would have been the biggest in franchise history - the Yankees won 16 of their final 21 games to win the AL East division and clinch home field advantage throughout the AL playoffs.

"I think this team has been pushed to the max," said Alex Rodriguez. "This is the hardest we've been pushed since I've been here. I told the New York media in Tampa that I thought it was going to be a blessing in disguise, and I think it was. I think we were forced to do things the right way, and we did."

The next few weeks will tell us whether or not A-Rod is right. Will the end of the season push springboard the Yankees to their 28th World Series title? Or, did it wear out a beaten-up, aging team?

We begin finding out out on Sunday.