Gio Urshela has been a very pleasant surprise for the Yankees this season. (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)

BALTIMORE — Even given 50 guesses, before the start of this season, as to which New York Yankees player would be the key to a pivotal, three-week stretch in May in which the team surged into first place in the American League’s toughest division — and even handed the giveaway hint that the team would place 17 players on the injured list, 13 of them concurrently — not even the most die-hard fan would have come up with the name Gio Urshela.

No one could have guessed in February, March or April that it would be Urshela, a 27-year-old third baseman in his third organization in 12 months, who would lead the Yankees with 10 RBI this month, including a handful that have tied or won games; who would be hitting .414 with runners in scoring position this season; who would be looked upon with admiration and gratitude by teammates who probably didn’t know his name last August, when the Yankees acquired him from the Toronto Blue Jays without giving up a single player in return.

“He’s probably our MVP at this point,” reliever Adam Ottavino said of Urshela last week.

But by now, maybe we should have seen it coming. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that the Yankees would kick over a rock one August (paying cash considerations to the Blue Jays for Urshela, who had a .225 batting average, .274 on-base percentage and .315 slugging percentage to that point in his career) and by the next May have on their hands a new building block — a player who, even when the Yankees return to something approximating full strength, appears to have earned a spot on the roster for the stretch run.

Because that is precisely what the Yankees do now, as well as any big-market team in the majors — and maybe as well as any team in the game, period. Yes, the modern Yankees are still defined in part by their massive payrolls — roughly $210 million this season, third highest in the majors. But with much of that giant payroll parked on the injured list, they are also defined these days by a sharp, shrewd resourcefulness that helps explain how they have survived one of the worst runs of injuries of any contender in recent memory.

According to data at Spotrac, the Yankees have lost a total of 650 player days to the injured list this season, 101 more than any other team in the majors, and 218 more than any other AL team. Even now, with players slowly making their way back to the roster, their injured list includes MVP-caliber sluggers (Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton), ace-caliber starting pitchers (Luis Severino, James Paxton), a top setup man (Dellin Betances) and last year’s AL rookie of the year runner-up (Miguel Andujar).

Into this void has stepped a cast of unknowns, reclamations and trash-heap finds, who have combined to not only keep the Yankees afloat, but, at 29-17 following Monday night’s win over the Baltimore Orioles, in first place in the AL East by a game over the Tampa Bay Rays.

“We’ve had a lot of our guys in various roles gain a lot of experience,” Manager Aaron Boone said. “Obviously, a lot of guys have done well with it, have had some success. I think that leads to confidence and knowing they can not only play here, but thrive here. We’ve needed every bit of it. And these are guys who have a chance to not only play a short-term role for us, but also a long-term role — and hopefully we’ll benefit from that as the season unfolds, and also down the stretch.”

It isn’t just Urshela. It’s also first baseman Luke Voit, buried a year ago on the St. Louis Cardinals’ depth chart, now posting an .873 OPS with 11 homers while holding down the No. 2 or No. 3 spot in the lineup most nights. It’s infielder Thairo Estrada, best-known for missing nearly the entire 2018 season after being shot during a botched robbery attempt in his native Venezuela, now hitting .303/.324/.545 since an April call-up. It’s right-hander Domingo German, a one-time middling Miami Marlins prospect and middling Yankees swingman, now 8-1 with a 2.50 ERA as the de facto ace of their rotation.

“You always wonder, what was it that his original team didn’t see, but that the Yankees did,” lefty reliever Zach Britton said. “Take Luke Voit — the way [the Yankees’ analytics staff] ran the numbers and thought that type of player with consistent at-bats would be great in our stadium. You’re like, ‘Why would St. Louis not see that?’ ”

With Urshela, the Yankees were initially attracted to his glovework — not exactly a big secret, with scouts across the industry rating him as one of the best defensive third base prospects in the game. But they also thought he might be able to hit enough — despite modest minor league numbers — to make an impact in the majors. Urshela held the same belief.

“Basically, it’s more confidence. To me it’s more mental than mechanic,” Urshela said. “I had a pretty good season [in the minors] in 2014. But I think the difference between that year and this year is in 2014 I was hitting but I wasn’t sure why. I was just swinging, swinging, swinging. This year, the big difference is I know what I’m doing. I know what’s helping me be more consistent in the box.”

As a kid growing up in Cartagena, Colombia, Urshela worshiped countrymen Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera — arguably the two best of the 22 Colombians who have appeared in the majors — and the 2004 World Series, which featured Cabrera’s Boston Red Sox beating Renteria’s Cardinals, represented a seminal moment in the childhood of Urshela, who was 13 at the time and would soon choose baseball over soccer as his life’s pursuit.

“Those guys were my role models,” Urshela said. “I wanted to be like them.”

Urshela’s emergence has helped the Yankees survive the most devastating of their 2019 injuries, the only one that will cost them the services of a star player for the rest of this season — that of Andujar, who underwent shoulder surgery last week and will be out at least until next spring.

Pretty much everyone else of note is either back already (catcher Gary Sanchez, center fielder Aaron Hicks) or due to return in the next few weeks (Judge, Stanton, Betances, Paxton, shortstop Didi Gregorius) or months (Severino).

Given the Yankees’ surprising hold on first place despite the many injuries, the effect of getting all those players back is likely to be similar to that of a contending team adding multiple superstar-caliber players at the trade deadline.

“When you don’t feel like you need to go out and make a trade to add great pieces, and you’ve got all-stars you’re waiting to get back,” Britton said, “you would assume we’re going to be a better, more well-rounded team when they all get back."

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