As long as I can remember, counting the Yankees out before the All-Star break has been like thinking you can take home the totally smokin’ hot girl in the club. You see her near the bar, you fuel up on Miller Lite to the point that you’re sure that, yeah, she’s totally f–king looking at me and you plot your move and chart your course and you’re thinking about what you’re going to make her for breakfast in the morning and before you even know what happened, some beefed-up twit in a pink Izod shirt (with turned-up collar, no less) has swooped in and flown away with her.

Or, to put it simply, just when you think it’s gonna happen, it doesn’t happen.

I’ve attended more Yankees Elimination Parties than I care to remember, but I can’t recall a single season — at least not in the Magical Era of Joe Torre — in which the Yanks have looked more hapless and snakebitten. And now they’ve lost their steroid monkey for what some say could actually be the balance of the season. Compared to the way the Sox have been rolling — Youk and Lowell are carrying the motherflippin’ offense, for the love of God — that 13.5 difference in the standings seems almost insurmountable.

I say almost because there are a few things the Yanks still have going for them. First and foremost is that offense. On paper, this is an offense that should be scoring runs like Roger Ebert scarfs chocolate chip muffins, and I can’t imagine they’re not gonna turn in on something fierce this summer. I mean, it has to happen. There’s also the Clemens factor, and while it’s easy to dismiss him as an overaged, overfed has-been, he’s still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game when he wants to be, and he could infuse the team with that bit of piss and vinegar they’ve been lacking. At the very least, he and Pettitte should have ample opportunity to recreate the Manny-Tavarez head rub.

Still, if the Sox can sweep ‘em away — or at least win two of three — it’s safe bet that Steiny gets his Darth vader on, and heads will roll. By Monday morning.

The circus starts up at 7:05pm. Wakefield Standard Time.