Dollar-store Yankees intent on looking something like the real thing

Tim BrownMLB columnist

ANAHEIM, Calif. — On the afternoon he filled out a lineup card that would have Brett Gardner at the top, J.A. Happ at the very bottom, and eight guys at or near the major leagues’ minimum salary in between, Aaron Boone spotted his head trainer from across the clubhouse and went into stealth mode. Grinning, he stood a bit taller, turned sideways, got skinny, made his move.

From the side of his mouth he whispered, “Just gonna tiptoe by …”

When you’re the manager of the New York Yankees and your entire lineup, 10 Yankees, couldn’t cover Mike Trout’s annual salary — not even close — then the bus got lost, somebody undercooked the chicken again or the trainer is delivering entirely too much bad news, entirely too often. Maybe best to avoid him.

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By Monday night here, their 22nd game, on the season’s 26th day, Boone’s Yankees had 13 men on the injured list, including their starting outfield, three-quarters of their infield, their presumptive opening-day starter, their setup reliever and their catcher. Aaron Judge was the latest to go two days ago, with an oblique strain, following the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Miguel Andujar and Troy Tulowitzki. Didi Gregorius hasn’t played a game. Nor has Aaron Hicks. Luis Severino hasn’t thrown a pitch. Neither has Dellin Betances.

It’s bad. Like, really bad. If only April bad, which is as good as the news gets.

Take all the frayed, strained, torn, impinged, stiff, inflamed, bowed and otherwise broken Yankees parts, give them a few hours to marinate, put them all together again and you’d have one whole and healthy human being who, depending, of course, on the matchups, could hit cleanup for the Yankees tomorrow night.

The Yankees' Gio Urshela celebrates at first base after an RBI single during the 14th inning Monday night in Anaheim, California. (Getty Images)
The Yankees' Gio Urshela celebrates at first base after an RBI single during the 14th inning Monday night in Anaheim, California. (Getty Images)

Push around what’s left, smear a little here and a little there, dress it up in road grays, point it all toward the baseball field and what’s out there is Gardner and eight guys whose collective service time is two years fewer than Gardner’s 10-plus seasons. That would be odd enough in, let’s say, Miami. In the Bronx, it’s the sort of thing that would have you pull to the side of the road to compose yourself, then just walk home.

Doesn’t mean they can’t play, of course. Or win sometimes. Doesn’t mean it can’t be fun watching the Yankees make a go at surviving this thing, or attacking the game differently when waiting on a three-run home run depends in some measure on Judge’s oblique rehab. You can’t wait six weeks for a big hit.

If you don’t like haughty, swaggery, born-on-third-base-think-they-doubled-and-moved-up-on-the-throw Yankees, then you’ll like these Yankees. Or not.

As former Yankee David Cone said on the team’s telecast Sunday, “Nobody ever feels sorry for the Yankees. … Quite the opposite.”

Still, the world asks, Who are these guys? But not in the Yankees’ clubhouse they don’t. Or not always anyway. Maybe a couple times. And then it’s all a big laugh until the Yankees — these Yankees — win six of seven games, even if three of the six were against the Kansas City Royals, and one was against the Angels, because beating bad teams may just be the way to get through this thing.

“Look,” Boone said, “I want our guys back in the worst way. I hate seeing core guys go down. … But it has been a lot of fun and satisfying to see guys get opportunities.”

Ultimately, he added, the question for the young men, the untested men, the men still upright, the organization as a whole, becomes, “Can you withstand that? Can you stand up to it?”

The answer, probably, is maybe. For a little while. The catcher, Gary Sanchez, is expected back in the lineup here Wednesday night. It’s a start. The Yankees and Boone are operating with a net, too. Those other guys, the ones you’ve heard of whose jerseys you wear, are coming back, presumably. Just not today.

So, as they often do, Yankees fans turn out by the thousands at an unfamiliar stadium, and they crowd the perimeter of the visitors’ dugout, and when the gray-and-navy-blue-clad players begin to appear, there’s a bit of confusion. That’s Mike Tauchman. Unless it’s Mike Ford.

“Mike!” they yell, safely.

That’s probably Tyler Wade. Could be Gio Urshela. Kyle Higashioka’d be wearin’ a mask or something, right?

“Hey!” they yell, trailing off.

Just Sunday they beat the Royals on, in part, Thairo Estrada’s sacrifice bunt and Austin Romine’s single, Tauchman’s two hits and Clint Frazier’s three-run homer, and Ford’s first big-league hit. Tauchman has three home runs in 38 at-bats. Urshela is hitting .278. Sure, Ford is going to have to go some to hit .100, and Wade’s dipped under .200, and the game gets tougher away from home, even in places like Anaheim and San Francisco, where the local clubs are a bit undermanned themselves.

They’d boarded a flight for California, showed up at the ballpark as scheduled, looked around, and managed five hits in 14 innings, three in the first six innings against Matt Harvey, whose ERA was near 10. It’s the new, if temporary, reality for the Yankees, who’re going to have to pitch and pitch and pitch, just to have a chance. They won again, because Gleyber Torres reached base by striking out on a wild pitch and an error, advanced on a wild pitch, and scored when Urshela singled, all in the 14th inning. To those reinforcements, fill-ins, break-glass-in-case-of-emergencies, this becomes their season, too. And maybe there can be heroes in April, a handful of young men who’ll be remembered in September and October for not being great, but for being good enough, for being there, for being Yankees.

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