The year 2023 marks the 25th anniversary of one of the greatest teams in baseball history: the 1998 Yankees. Pinstripe Alley is celebrating the occasion by checking in on what the 1998 ballclub was up to every day. Usually, it was winning, of course, but it’s a thrill to remember all the surprising contributors, not to mention the routine exploits of stars like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, David Cone, and more. Yesterday, Peter got to talk about David Wells’ perfect game! What fun!
Luckily for the ‘98 Yankees, they got to celebrate Wells deep into the night because they had May 18th off. (An equally memorable showdown with the Orioles awaited on the 19th.) Unluckily for us, there wasn’t any notable news from 25 years ago today to discuss.
So instead, I’m going only 10 years into the past today. Why am I doing this at all? Because it gives us a glimpse at the weirdest team that I can personally remember in franchise history: the 2013 Yankees. That doesn’t really answer the question of why I’m doing this, though. There is no real reason. I just have an affinity for this bizarre ballclub, probably due to the fact that I’ve been writing on the internet for long enough that I covered them, too. I spent way, way too much of my first year out of college thinking about this team.
There is not enough room in a normal-length article to discuss everything that went wrong for the 2013 Yankees. Given the litany of injuries and other woes already present on Opening Day, I’m not entirely sure how they finished over .500 to prolong the team’s historic streak of avoiding losing seasons. They were outscored by 21 runs and had just four players with over three WAR per Baseball Reference. It helped to have someone as reliable as the retiring Mariano Rivera available to close out tight ballgames, though, and even with everything that went on with Joe Girardi in Philadelphia nearly a decade later, the man knew how to run a team (or at least a bullpen).
So what was this odd bunch up to on May 18th?
May 18: Yankees 7, Blue Jays 2 (box score)
Record: 27-16 (up 1)
This was a first-place team! Girardi’s club had sole possession of the top spot in AL East over the eventual champion Red Sox between May 11th and May 25th. Considering the fact that they were missing essential contributors Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Mark Teixeira (to name a few), that was no small feat. They’d only just gotten slugger Curtis Granderson back from a spring training plunking, and on May 24th, he was mercilessly beaned again and wouldn’t return until August. The day before this particular anniversary, they lost old standby Andy Pettitte for two weeks due to a trapezius injury.
But don’t you worry. The 2013 Yankees had some transactions lined up for this day! The reinforcements were a-comin’!
05/18/13 New York Yankees designated Alberto Gonzalez for assignment.
05/18/13 Colorado Rockies traded SS Reid Brignac to New York Yankees.
05/18/13 Los Angeles Angels claimed 3B Chris Nelson off waivers from New York Yankees.
My oh my, is that a trio of 2013 Yankees if I’ve ever seen one. The Yankees were badly hurting in their desperation to find even mildly palatable replacements for Jeter and A-Rod on the left side of the infield. All three of these vagabonds saw time with the 2013 Yanks.
Offseason addition Kevin Youkilis (barf that that happened) had stunned absolutely no one by sustaining a back injury before April was even over, and the ever-frustrating Eduardo Núñez was out with a strained oblique, too. So-so prospect David Adams—best known along with Núñez for once stymieing the Cliff Lee trade talks—was up in the majors at third and Jayson Nix was the shortstop. The Yankees had let Russell Martin go to the Pirates in free agency for not that much because they thought Francisco Cervelli could do the job. He did ... for a few weeks before he broke his hand. That left Chris Stewart and Austin Romine to comprise an uninspiring catcher platoon.
If this lineup is starting to sound bleak, allow me to repeat the thoughts of my colleague Matt Ferenchick, who was also writing then: “Grading on the 2013 curve, this is actually a fairly competent lineup.”
CF Brett Gardner
2B Robinson Canó
LF Vernon Wells
DH Travis Hafner
1B Lyle Overbay
RF Curtis Granderson
SS Jayson Nix
3B David Adams
C Austin Romine
The sad thing is that Matt is right on the money. The offense really didn’t make any opponents think twice until Granderson and A-Rod’s respective August returns (the latter appealing his infamous Biogenesis suspension) and the addition of old friend Alfonso Soriano in a salary dump with the Cubs. This was about as much as the engine was humming in the first half.
And wouldn’t you know it? The lineup on May 18th plated seven runs against Toronto’s Brandon Morrow. That would’ve been more impressive had it come when Morrow was in his 17-strikeout heyday, but in 2013, you took whatever wins you could get.
Nix—who just did something every game (usually bad)—was the catalyst for the Yankees’ first rally off Morrow. He singled up the middle to lead off the third, and though Adams and Romine did very Adams and Romine things with outs, that brought the top of the order into play. The steady Gardner singled to center to plate Nix, who had moved to second on Adams’ grounder, and Peak Canó wasn’t about to waste this elusive opportunity with a runner aboard.
I still love that swing, even on a short porch special.
The man who started on that day for the Yankees was sophomore pitcher David Phelps, who just retired this past offseason. He would eventually find his long-term MLB home in the bullpen elsewhere, but the 2008 draft pick out of Notre Dame did a commendable job against a tough Toronto offense that starred era-defining mashers José Bautista and Edwin Encarnación and other strong hitters, including Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus. Phelps went seven innings with one run allowed on six hits and three walks, fanning eight batters.
Canó launched his second two-run dinger of the day in the fifth, following an elusive single by Romine. That gave the Yankees a firm 5-1 lead.
Encarnación touched up setup man David Robertson (the only player from this game who’s still active) for a solo shot in the top of the eighth, but erstwhile Cleveland slugger Hafner got the run back plus another. Blue Jays shortstop Maicer Izturis threw away a Wells grounder with one out, and Hafner launched the 208th homer of his career to make it 7-2.
“Pronk” was in the middle of an early-season resurgence for New York and would go yard again the next game. But in his remaining 48 contests, the DH sank into a .507 OPS slump and was injured for most of the second half. Hafner also missed time because the Yankees’ pitching machine, named “The Humbler,” plunked his left foot and bruised him. I wish that I was making this up.
As for the rest of this ballgame, lefty Boone Logan got the last inning and retired the Jays in order. The final was 7-2, and the 2013 Yankees could enjoy first place for another day. Raise a glass to the Lyle Overbays of the world.