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Yankees, Cano catch a lucky break

TORONTO -- The Yankees had already gone 0-for-their-last-4 hand X-rays when Robinson Cano took a J.A. Happ pitch off his left hand on Tuesday night, and if that streak had stretched to 0-for-5, it would have been time to turn out the lights on their season.

And at the moment of impact, that appeared to be a definite possibility. When Cano left the game a few minutes later, and it was obvious that he had been taken to a hospital for the dreaded X-word, it went from a possibility to probability.

As Joe Girardi said, "We haven't had a lot of luck on our side when it comes to X-rays this year."

Or last year, for that matter. Starting with a Felix Hernandez changeup that broke Alex Rodriguez's left hand last July, and stretching to a week ago, when that rarest of rarities, a fastball from R.A. Dickey, busted Jayson Nix's left hand, the Yankees have had a literal run of bad breaks when it comes to hands.

In between, Curtis Granderson suffered two broken hands, one of them in spring training courtesy of the same Happ, whose fastball on Tuesday threatened to end their wild-card push 30 games from the finish line. And this isn't even counting the broken hand suffered by Francisco Cervelli on a foul tip while he was behind the plate back in May.

To some degree or another, the Yankees survived each of those injuries. But it was probably asking too much to expect them to survive the loss of Cano, not just because his bat is the most potent in their lineup.

It's because, like Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning, there really is no one behind him.

The Yankees muddled through without A-Rod for six weeks last year, and they were able to replace Granderson by playing chess with Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells. Nix was a backup anyway, albeit a valuable one, and nobody's asked about Cervelli in a long, long time.

But Cano? If he goes down, who steps up?

Eduardo Nunez, who has enough trouble playing shortstop (the position he is being groomed for), and who went down under his own power in the ninth inning as if he were shot from the upper reaches of the Rogers Centre?

Alfonso Soriano, who came up as a second baseman but now is so ingrained as an outfielder he admitted he doesn't even like taking infield grounders anymore?

Mark Reynolds, a versatile utility man who has played all of two innings there in his entire major league career?

The answer, of course, is all of the above.

And any one of them would have spelled disaster for the remainder of this Yankees season.

And that is what it felt like for more than two hours Tuesday night, despite the four-run first-inning lead the Yankees jumped off to against Happ on Soriano's three-run homer, despite solo homers later on from Reynolds and Rodriguez (No. 651, nine short of Willie Mays) and despite seven shutout innings from a rejuvenated-looking Andy Pettitte.

The threat of losing Cano for the remainder of the season -- broken hands generally take a minimum of six weeks to heal -- hung over the game like the trussed roof of the Rogers Center.

Despite all appearances, Cano -- who slammed his helmet to the ground in pain and frustration and needed a lot of attention from trainer Stevie Donohue -- stayed in the game for as long as it took Soriano to hit Happ's next pitch into the third ring of seats above the left-field wall.

But when he did not come out to play the field in the bottom of the first -- Nunez trotted out to second in his place -- even Girardi admitted he was bracing for the worst.

"Every hand that has been X-rayed has come back poorly for us," he said.

It wasn't until the seventh inning, when the game was virtually in the books -- but the season still hung in the balance -- that the Yankees got their first bit of truly good news all season long: Cano's X-ray had come back negative.

His hand was just bruised, which meant their dream was not yet broken. And while it is unlikely he will play in Wednesday's series finale, the expectation is that when the Yankees return home on Friday to begin their final push for a wild-card spot, Cano will be there to help with the pushing.

"We had to go to another country to finally get a good one," a clearly relieved Girardi said.

Cano, too, was relieved. Appearing in the clubhouse with a thick bandage wrapped around his left hand, Cano admitted that when he first felt the impact of ball against flesh, he feared the worst.

"There was a lot of pain," he said. "I was pretty concerned. [First-base coach] Mick [Kelleher] asked me at first base if I thought it was broken; it was close to the bone."

But as the numbness subsided, Cano started to realize the pitch had hit him not in the fifth metacarpal -- a fancy name for the pinkie, the bone A-Rod, Granderson and Nix broke -- or the delicate hamate bone, but in the muscle along the side of the hand, the part you use to karate chop a board. He flexed his hand and found he could bend the fingers, another good sign.

A preliminary test at the Rogers Centre -- they have a fluoroscope here, but no X-ray machine -- came back clean, but the Yankees wanted to be sure, so Cano was taken to a local hospital for a real X-ray.

"You're extremely relieved," Girardi said. "Obviously he's day-to-day and I don't know what we have tomorrow. But the fact that there's no break, well, we finally got some good news."

It could not have come at a better time for the Yankees, who despite winning big -- the final was 7-1 -- remain 4 1/2 games out of the second AL wild-card spot, and behind three other teams.

That is a stiff enough task in itself, even with a healthy Cano. Without him, it would have been impossible.

"It definitely would've been a huge blow if you would have had him out for an extended period of time," Pettitte said. "We got lucky with that, that's for sure."

"We're all very relieved," Rodriguez said. "It's been a crazy year. I've never seen more guys go down and then [Nunez] goes down for the count. I've never seen that before. Hopefully both guys are OK."

For the record, Nunez said he caught a spike in a seam on the turf and injured his knee -- "I thought I broke my knee," he said -- but after some on-field therapy from Donohue, the busiest man on the Yankees' staff this year, and nearly an hour of postgame icing, Nunez proclaimed himself "hopefully" ready to play on Wednesday.

The odds are Cano will not -- the Yankees have an off-day on Thursday and he will no doubt benefit from two days off -- and if Nunez can't go, it will be Reynolds making his first-ever start at second base.

Not to worry -- he helped turn the game-ending double play when hustled into the game in place of Nunez in the ninth inning.

"I was kind of nervous for that," he said. "I haven't turned a double play in I don't know how long."

The way things look now, he might be called upon to turn another one on Wednesday, and then Cano and Nunez will probably be back.

"[Cano's] our third hitter in the lineup and we really need him," Soriano said. "Thank God the X-ray was negative."

If this were earlier in the season, I think we all know how that X-ray would have turned out.

But now, as the calendar prepares to turn from August to September, and the games become all the more precious, the Yankees luck seems to be turning, too. And not a moment too soon.