Time heals all wounds, they say. Unless someone comes around a decade later and cruelly pokes and prods at them. And while I’d like to think I have a loftier purpose in taking us back to the year 2013 to reminisce about the lineup the Yankees sent out to face the Boston Red Sox in the first game of that year, it’s painful nonetheless.
I’ve been a bit bearish on this season’s lineup. I’m worried that a lot of variables have to break the Yankees’ way for the lineup to really click at a high level — health, bounce-back seasons, youngsters playing at a high level, and so on and so on. But in comparison to the motley crew adorned in pinstripes ten years ago, I’m downright giddy at the potential for this year.
In what seems a bit too on the nose, the Yankees started the 2013 campaign at home against the Red Sox on April Fool’s Day. You could be forgiven for perhaps thinking you were, to paraphrase Homer Simpson, on the wrong end of an electrified fooling machine when you caught a glimpse of that lineup.
Honestly, if you just look at the top third, it’s not too bad. Brett Gardner, back after missing virtually all of 2012 with an elbow injury, held down the leadoff spot in his first full season as the Yankees’ go-to leadoff man. Next up, with Derek Jeter on the shelf due to the ankle injury he suffered in the previous year’s playoffs, Eduardo Núñez. Núñez had hit .292 the season before, in limited playing time, and there was reason to hope on him.
Anchoring the lineup, Robinson Canó. Fresh off a 2012 that saw him rack up 8.4 bWAR and a top-five AL MVP finish, his presence was undoubtedly the highlight of this offense. Little did we know at the time that 2013 was his Yankees swan song.
Now the wheels come off, so to speak. Playing first base, and batting clean-up, Mark Tex... er, Kevin Youkilis. Yeah. One of those Red Sox that I think the entire fanbase loved to hate started Opening Day 2013 at first base for New York. Mere weeks before the season began, Teixeira partially tore the tendon sheath in his right wrist. So yeah. Kevin Youkilis. That happened.
Youk was not the only AL East alum to don the pinstripes that season. Patrolling left field on that Bronx afternoon was none other than Vernon Wells. The former Blue Jay returned to the division where it all began for him, after a couple of years on the West Coast with the Angels. The crazy thing was... at first he looked like the pinstripes had rejuvenated him. Wells was on fire to start the season, with six home runs and a .911 OPS before the calendar turned to May and he returned to being the Vernon Wells he’d been the previous seasons.
We got a heck of a DH tandem for this one, too. With lefty Jon Lester on the hill, Joe Girardi sent Ben Francisco out as the starting DH, replacing him with Travis Hafner when the platoon opportunity arose. Like Wells, Hafner was an utter monster for the first month of the season. He matched Wells’ six dingers while putting together an 1.104 OPS (lol). For the rest of the year, he couldn’t break a .600 OPS. The bloom came off the rose quickly. Francisco meanwhile managed a .114 BA in 44 Yankee at-bats.
Ichiro was in right field. Thank the Lord. He had hit .322 with the Yankees after they acquired him midway through the previous season. Unfortunately, speaking of wheels falling off. The all-time great managed a very empty .262 average in pinstripes in 2013. No rescue came from that quarter.
If you’re wondering where Alex Rodriguez was in this lineup, you can stop. The third baseman underwent hip surgery in January 2013, and initial expectations were that he could miss the entire season. He managed to return, but not until the second half. In his place at third base? Jayson Nix. Yep. Of course, there’s more. Girardi pinch-hit for Nix with Lyle Overbay, who took over at first, sending Youkilis to third.
Finally, catching and hitting ninth, Francisco Cervelli. He also happened to be the offensive hero for the Yankees on the day, driving in both Yankees’ runs in the bottom of the fourth, as the club got pummeled 8-2. The sad postscript to this is that Cervelli was playing well for the club to start the season, but then a cascade of injuries limited him to 17 games.
So. While I look a bit askance at a couple of the spots in the Yankee batting order as we get ready for Opening Day 2023, it honestly could be so much worse. In hindsight, it’s a miracle the 2013 club won 85 games. After making myself go back a decade to look at how we started that season, I’m thanking my blessings that the Yankees have the proven bats they do, and that the youngsters who’ve already made the club and those who are knocking on the door, do so dripping with potential.