- Andrew Marchand, ESPN Senior Writer
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BOSTON -- The greatest closer of all time tumbled to mortality in Kansas City. One of the greatest power hitters of all time stumbled to what looks like a very pedestrian existence with a bat in his hand. Their starting left fielder played nine games.
Yet the New York Yankees cruised into the All-Star break with the best record in baseball (52-33). They have a seven-game lead in the American League East over the Baltimore Orioles. By winning three of four at Fenway Park this weekend, they have not buried the Boston Red Sox -- not yet. But standing 9½ back, Bobby Valentine's boys will have to wipe some dirt off to make a historic comeback.
After nearly 15 hours of baseball, played over three days, the Yankees ended the first half in style -- leaving the Red Sox in disarray, a .500 team looking up, along with the rest of Major League Baseball, at the best team in the game.
Here is what could be the scariest part for the rest of the big leagues -- the Yankees are far from satisfied.
"Great, but not enough," said Ivan Nova, Sunday's winning pitch, when asked to describe the first half. "We have had a very good first half. Now, we have to put that behind and have a really good second half."
The Yankees came to Boston and trudged through the four games that left manager Joe Girardi almost punch-drunk during his after-midnight postgame news conference Sunday night.
"The games are meant to be four hours," Girardi said. "I don't know what to say."
First baseman Mark Teixeira added, "It is like going to the dentist's office. You know you have to do it. It is torture sometimes. These games are so long and we had to play two on [Saturday]. It is what it is and I'd rather play four-hour games that we win than four-hour games that we lose."
Nobody joked about Derek Jeter dropping a first-inning popup, but it was easier to take after the 7-3 win.
"Well, I wish I had a good story for you and say a bird hit it or something, but basically it was a popup and I dropped it," Jeter said. "I think I've done it one other time in my career that I can remember [in 2009 in Anaheim]. I just dropped it. I had two hands [on it].
"When you think about it, that is probably the most embarrassing thing that can happen to a player on defense if it is an infielder, outfielder, catcher. I mean I wish I could tell you the wind was gusting the ball all over the place. I just dropped it."
The play was the polar opposite of Jeter's first half. His 111 hits are tied for the best total in the American League (with Miguel Cabrera). Exactly a year after collecting career hit No. 3,000, he deserves to be in the All-Star Game in Kansas City. (By the way, the spasm he had in his shoulder Sunday night isn't a big deal, Jeter said, and won't prevent him from playing on Tuesday.)
Alex Rodriguez, formerly one of the most feared home run hitters in the game, nailed a long RBI triple on Sunday. But his lack of production is still a concern for the Yankees.
The hot-hitting Andruw Jones -- with 127 at-bats, compared to A-Rod's 305 -- has just two less homers than Rodriguez's 13. Jones nailed another one on Sunday, which gave him four homers on the weekend.
Jones led the Yankees here in Boston. A new player stepping up seemingly every day was the story of the Yankees' first half. They didn't pitch well at times. They couldn't buy a clutch hit. Still, more often than not, they found a way to win.
The bottom line? The New York Yankees are the best team in baseball -- and they may not have played their best baseball yet.
5mAdam Rubin and Kieran Darcy
5mAdam Rubin and Kieran Darcy
10hTony Lee, Special to ESPN.com
16hJacob Nitzberg, ESPN Stats & Information