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April surprise: New York Yankees open season with a flourish

The new men in pinstripes are picking up the slack for injured players
05/01/2013 9:28 AM ET
By Joe Auriemma

Travis Hafner was among the pleasant surprises who sparked the Yankees to a 16-10 April record.(AP)
Tuesday night's 7-4 New York Yankees victory over the Houston Astros was the absolute perfect way to end the month of April. It was a month in which many critics coming into this season saw a rebirth of players that were basically tossed aside by others and called past their prime, while watching a team win almost night in and night out after a 1-4 start to 2013.

The Yankees finished the month with a 16-10 record, in an April that saw nine players go on or join others on the disabled list. Derek Jeter announced that he had re-fractured his ankle. Kevin Youkilis, who became a fan favorite after being vilified for years, himself went on the DL. But the Yankees were still one of the best teams in the American League to start 2013.

"I'm pleased with the ways these guys are playing," Joe Girardi said. "They have done their job. They have done a very good job for us. It hasn't always been pretty, but our guys have come up with clutch hits when we needed them. Our pitchers have done a pretty good job."

The key to this team has been great starting pitching combined with solid veteran players stepping up, a bullpen once again anchored by Mariano Rivera and the team finding great chemistry.

"I think we've done a good job," Travis Hafner said. "Our pitching's been outstanding. I think we've swung the bats pretty well, so I think we feel good about April and we're just looking to keep it going."

Players like Hafner, Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay were thought to be not enough to hold down the fort until the Yankees' regulars came back. They've not only been to hold down the fort, they've rejuvenated to their own careers. Each of these players, with Hafner and Wells being big-time stars at one time and Overbay being a solid Major League ballplayer, was essentially cast aside by their former teams. Each was thought to be over the hill and way past their prime, but each has been a key factor in the Yankees playing like a group on a mission.

"They have a lot of baseball left," CC Sabathia said of his new teammates. "People wrote them off in other places, but they have a lot of game left. They came here rejuvenated and they're playing well."

Sabathia played with Hafner in Cleveland and knew exactly what kind of player the Yankees were getting and what he brought to a team. The Yankees seemed to have consciously brought in the same type of player in the offseason to mask the injury-plagued lineup.

"They brought in really good dudes," Hafner jokingly said of his teammates. "Just a lot of veteran guys and good character guys. I think we've kind of known each other over the years and the clubhouse has been great. Everybody gets along well and it's been a lot of fun."

They have given the lineup a spark and unlike previous Yankees teams, they aren't always reliant on the home run to win ballgames. This team has shown a lot of pop and the ability to hit key home runs, and the ability to get key hits at the right time and move station to station.

"We came here and asked to be in the middle of this lineup. It's fun," Wells said. "I think that's the biggest thing. We've enjoyed putting this uniform on and having a chance to contribute, and to keep repeating each and every day, you've got to take advantage of it. We're having fun doing it."

The lineup has been a key compliment to the terrific starting pitching from Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, giving the Yankees the perfect amount of run support while winning close ballgames. It's also given the great Rivera in his last season 10 save chances, and he's converted all 10.

These Yankees are a fun group to watch. The victory against Houston in the final game of the month epitomized exactly what this team has been about to date. Going into May, the test is on to see if this group can sustain its terrific play while continuing to get healthier as the season goes on. Either way, April has been one heck of a ride for these New York Yankees.

Follow Joe Auriemma on Twitter: @JoeAuriemmaYES

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