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“He just came in and took over,” veteran center fielder Bernie Williams said.

Wang (8-4, 4.02) has been excellent, and the combined work of right-handers Small and Chacon has defied all probability, especially Small. At least Chacon was an All-Star with Colorado in 2003. Small, 33, basically had been a career minor league since 1998. His last big league start was in 1996. This year, he is 9-0 with a 3.28 ERA as both a starter and reliever. He has been called many things, including a “godsend,” by A-Rod.

“I could never foresee this, especially the way my career was going,” Small said. “I just needed an opportunity. It’s been a wild ride, being in the middle of a pennant race.”

Chacon, 27, wore out his welcome in Colorado, which drafted him out of high school in 1996. The Rockies made him a closer last year, and he saved 35 games but blew a bunch of others. He went back to starting this year and had a 1-7 record with a 4.09 ERA when the Yankees got him in late July for a pair of minor leaguers.

For the Yankees, Chacon is 6-3 with a 2.89 ERA.

“I always had confidence in my abilities,” he said. “I expect great things from myself all the time. But I never thought I’d be in this situation. It’s been a [great] ride for me.”

Using rookies and spare parts is not an entirely new concept for this or any other perennial winner.

“Every year since I’ve been here, the team at some point has had people who were not expected to do well step up and take charge,” said Williams, a Yankee since 1991.

It’s happened before for the Yankees, but maybe not quite like this.

“People try to look at us as the $200 million giant, but there’s no question we’ve come together as a team,” said Cashman, who is rumored to be considering leaving after trying to cope with Steinbrenner since 1998. “A team is [roster spots] one through 25, and there are a lot of guys here that have stepped up.”