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NEW YORK -- It turned out to be a fortuitous bit of timing that on the same night the New York Yankees were finally and mercifully eliminated from the playoff hunt, the giveaway at Yankee Stadium was a Charlie Brown bobblehead.
Because if ever a team's baseball season and plastic figurine belonged together, it was the 2013 Yankees and the most hapless and frustrated fictional athlete in the history of American popular culture.
Nothing ever went right on the ball field for Charlie Brown, and aside from the illusory false start of the first 50 games of the season, nothing went right for the Yankees this season.
|Long faces were prevalent in the Yankees' dugout after being eliminated from postseason contention.|
The Yankees' run of dreadful luck, in fact, stretches back probably to the early hours of Oct. 13, when Derek Jeter took a step to his left to field a double-play grounder and wound up with a metal plate and four screws in his ankle.
From there, it was all downhill until Wednesday night, when the Yankees lost 8-3 to the Tampa Bay Rays to finally pull the plug on their improbable dream, although the dream had died an inning earlier, when the Cleveland Indians, powered by former Yankee Nick Swisher, completed a victory over the Chicago White Sox that secured for them the second AL wild card spot the Yankees have been hoping to somehow sneak into.
But that was never really an option, not after Jeter went down, and Mark Teixeira went down, and Alex Rodriguez went down, and Curtis Granderson went down -- twice! -- with two broken hands, both from wayward pitches.
Manager Joe Girardi, to his credit, refused to use the unprecedented rash of injuries -- over the course of the season, the Yankees sent 20 players to the disabled list for 27 DL stints resulting in a loss of a combined 1,278 games to injury -- as an excuse.
"I don't care who the guys are in that room," Girardi said after the game. "You put the uniform on, you're a big league player. And I believe you have a chance to reach the postseason. If you don't make it, it's disappointing."
But earlier, when the improbable dream was still flickering, the manager came closer to reality when, asked if he was satisfied with the replacement players he had been provided with, he said, "I think our front office and ownership did the best they could. But when you lose a guy like Tex, you lose a 40-home run guy like Grandy, you lose an everyday shortstop, those guys just aren't laying around, and people aren't just going to give them to you, either."
Considering that the Yankees remained in serious contention for one of those wild-card spots until about 12 days ago, when they began a collapse that cost them eight of their past 11 games, you have to figure that having even one of those players back for any length of time might have made the difference.
But every time it appeared as if the Yankees were about to become whole again, Snoopy dropped a pop fly or Lucy yanked the football away, and Charlie Brown was left to once again sigh, "Good grief."
That's the kind of season it was for the Yankees, from Granderson breaking his right wrist on his first at-bat of the spring, to Teixeira tearing a tendon sheath swinging in the cage while preparing to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, to Jeter being shut down after playing just two back-to-back practice games, five innings each, way back in March.
A-Rod, of course, was already going to be lost for at least half the season with hip surgery, and that was before most of us had ever heard of Biogenesis. Francisco Cervelli won the starting catcher's job and promptly broke his hand. Kevin Youkilis, signed to replace A-Rod, threw his back out and wound up under the knife. Travis Hafner, signed to be a power-hitting DH, tore his shoulder up in July and wasn't seen again until Wednesday night, another symbol of a season swathed in bandages and drowned in iodine.
Then there were lesser injuries to Andy Pettitte, Ivan Nova, Joba Chamberlain, Eduardo Nunez, Jayson Nix, David Phelps, CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, who started the season on the DL with a back injury and never seemed to get rolling.
Hughes, who will be a free agent after the season, made what will be undoubtedly his final start as a Yankee in Yankee Stadium, and showed what little good faith he retained with the manager, getting yanked in the third inning after throwing just 51 pitches and allowing, to that point, just two runs.
But he wound up taking the loss when David Huff allowed a third run to score, and the Yankees' bats, comatose for much of August and September, could never mount much of a threat against David Price.
"It's difficult when things snowball the way they do," said Hughes, who finished 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA. "Bad start after bad start you start doubting yourself at times, and that's difficult to bounce back from. This game can humble you really, really quick."
In the end, it was humbling to just about all of them. Rodriguez, who returned in early August, left after three miserable at-bats Wednesday night -- two of them strikeouts looking -- for pinch-hitter Ichiro Suzuki. Afterward, Girardi said A-Rod's "legs weren't great."
Vernon Wells, who looked like a reclamation project in April, merely looked washed up the rest of the season. Wednesday night, he misplayed three balls in right field, leading to a couple of Tampa Bay runs, and took a quiet 0-for-3 with a walk.
Alfonso Soriano, who gave the offense a jolt for a while after being acquired just before the trade deadline, went 0-for-4 with three K's. Brendan Ryan, a late-season pickup after Jeter was finally shut down for good, struck out three times, and in a display that could have stood for every one of his teammates, slammed his bat to the ground in frustration after the last one.
Mariano Rivera, the object of a love fest Sunday just before the loss to the Giants that was the first hint of the reality to come, was so disgusted he couldn't even work up any enthusiasm for his final Yankee Stadium appearance on Thursday.
"It's great to say goodbye to the fans," Rivera said. "But it don't mean nothing. I wanted to pitch for something that means something. I'm not used to pitching for something that doesn't mean anything."
Neither are most of the Yankees who have been here for any length of time. "It's a really sad feeling," said Robinson Cano, a pending free agent who also may have played his last game as a Yankee. "It's something that's going to be on my mind, in my head and my heart, maybe until next season. All you want is to make it to the playoffs, especially after four years in a row and winning a championship. Now you get to sit down and watch TV, just watch other teams."
There will be plenty of time to discuss what must be done over the winter, to chew over who should stay and who should go, and to decided how much of Hal Steinbrenner's inheritance to spend to avoid a similar ending to 2014.
But there's really no point in dissecting what went wrong in 2013.
In a word, everything. From Day 1.
Charlie Brown could certainly understand, and sympathize.