How could that be? It was difficult to fathom even while playing out in plain view: Each passing week seemed to produce at least one trip for X-rays or MRI exams. But while the Yankees missed the postseason for just the second time in 19 years, they still were able to fight and stay afloat into the season's final week.
"I'm extremely proud of this group because of what they've done and all that they've had to deal with," Girardi said. "You get one guy back, and he goes back on the DL. It's been strange with all the stuff that they've dealt with, but they've never stopped believing in themselves."
Girardi said that he took pride in the fact that his club seemed to always give a total effort, even when an early season rash of injuries to stars like Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira made prognosticators revise their picks and wipe the Yankees out of the playoff forecast.
"I know all the guys in that room expected to win a championship," said left-hander Andy Pettitte, who retired at the conclusion of the year. "We felt going into the season we had the team and the power to do that."
The Yankees patched the holes as best they could, making some early season acquisitions by trading for Vernon Wells and signing Lyle Overbay with three days left in camp; both had an impact, though Alfonso Soriano would prove to be the best acquisition of all, slugging 11 home runs in August alone after coming over in a late-July trade with the Cubs.
Alex Rodriguez's unprecedented 211-game suspension by Major League Baseball for violating the Joint Drug Agreement threatened to be a serious distraction, but the players seemed to handle the circus well. A galvanizing moment came in August, when Rodriguez was intentionally thrown at by the Red Sox's Ryan Dempster in a game at Fenway Park.
"I'm not sure how I would feel if I was on a different team, but Alex is my teammate," Brett Gardner said that night. "And obviously, I'm glad to have him back in the room."
The Yankees' on-field play also carried the ongoing subplot of Mariano Rivera's final season. The 43-year-old all-time saves leader returned from a devastating torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and made his retirement tour count, as he carved out time to make memories behind the scenes with longtime employees, fans and other personnel in each city the club visited.
"It has been great," Rivera said. "No regrets. It has been wonderful. The only thing that I wish is we could be in a different position than we are now."
That was a similar refrain in a season when the Yankees had eight rookies make their debuts, part of a final cast of 56 participants that ranged alphabetically from infielder David Adams to left-hander Mike Zagurski.
"Everything here is judged on whether you win the World Series or not," Girardi said. "That's just the nature of the business. But I can tell you that these guys have given everything I could ask for."
Record: 85-77, third place in the American League East
Defining moment: The Yankees hosted a memorable ceremony for Rivera on Sept. 22, retiring his No. 42 on an afternoon in which Pettitte carried a one-hitter through seven innings in his final Stadium start. But the day of celebration turned bittersweet as the Yankees twice had runners thrown out at the plate in a 2-1 loss to the Giants. Already saying goodbye to Rivera and Pettitte, the Yankees were also forced to acknowledge that any reasonable chance of making the playoffs was now gone.
What went right: Rivera was as dominant as ever in his final season, reaching 40 saves for the ninth time in his career. ... Robinson Cano was called upon to carry the offense and did an admirable job in a contract season, marking his third campaign with at least 25 homers and 100 RBIs. ... The acquisition of Soriano on July 26 was a steal. He became just the fifth player in history to collect 50 or more RBIs for two teams in one season. ... Gardner came into his own as a solid force, becoming the first Yankee since 1945 to have at least 30 doubles, 10 triples and 20 stolen bases in a season. ... A-Rod surpassed Lou Gehrig for the all-time grand slams record with the 24th of his career on Sept. 20. ... The 41-year-old Pettitte finished his career on a strong note, pitching well in August and September. ... The Yankees set a franchise record by having 23 players hit home runs. ... Lyle Overbay, released by the Red Sox near the end of the spring, provided stability at first base. He had four go-ahead home runs, including three in the seventh inning or later. ... Shawn Kelley was a solid arm out of the bullpen after being acquired via trade in February. ... Ivan Nova was the AL Pitcher of the Month for August, going 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA. ... Hiroki Kuroda was the Yankees' best starter before running out of steam in mid-August. ... Ichiro Suzuki collected his 4,000th career hit (Majors and Japan combined) on Aug. 21.
What went wrong: The injury tone was set by Granderson, who had his right forearm fractured by a pitch in his first at-bat of the spring. He missed 38 games, then had his left hand broken by a pitch on May 24. ... Jeter served four stints on the disabled list in what he called a "nightmare" season, batting .190 in just 17 games. ... The signings of Kevin Youkilis ($12 million) and Travis Hafner ($2 million) were flops. Youkilis played in just 28 games before having back surgery, and Hafner didn't help much after April. ... CC Sabathia posted a career-high 4.78 ERA, and Kuroda faltered when the team needed him in August and September. ... Phil Hughes skidded badly in a contract year, costing himself millions. The Yankees are not expected to bid on his services as a free agent for 2014. ... The Yankees tried nine third basemen other than A-Rod. None was particularly productive. ... Eduardo Nunez was unable to take advantage of a chance to play shortstop regularly. ... Francisco Cervelli lost most of his season to injury, then was hit with a 50-game suspension for violating the Joint Drug Agreement. ... Ichiro's performance fell off after July. After a warm start, Wells saw his bat cool, and the highly paid veteran slipped into reserve duty. ... Joba Chamberlain fell out of favor and was mostly used as a mop-up reliever in the second half. Preston Claiborne also struggled after a promising start to his rookie season. ... Michael Pineda had a setback while rehabbing from right shoulder surgery and has still not pitched a big league inning for the Yankees.
Biggest surprise: It had to be that Girardi was able to keep an injury-ravaged roster in the playoff race down to the final week of the season. The sense of the lineup changed with Soriano's arrival, as the Yankees were suddenly a team that could win by outslugging opponents, but they had been largely punchless for the first half of the season. The Yankees could have easily sunk under .500 this year, but Girardi mixed and matched to showcase a strong bullpen while keeping his veteran players fresh.
Hitter of the Year: Cano
Pitcher of the Year: Rivera
Rookie of the Year: right-hander Adam Warren