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Rivera and Pettitte exit, as 2013 marks end of an era

Injury-stricken Yankees miss the playoffs in an emotional year full of farewells

NEW YORK -- There is a snapshot that perfectly captures the 2013 Yankees season. It shows Mariano Rivera wearing the sliver of a smile and on the verge of tears, handing the baseball to Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter on the evening of Sept. 26 at Yankee Stadium.

Rivera had just thrown his final Major League pitch, burying his face in Pettitte's sweatshirt to weep as the emotions of the moment took over. Two days later, Pettitte would also make his exit, putting the finishing touches on a complete game victory over the Astros in a game that carried no playoff implications.

Jeter, meanwhile, went to the mound while on the disabled list for the fourth and final time -- the captain's frustrating season consisting of only 17 games while he watched what had once been a Core Four whittled down to just one man.

"They both came to get me out, and I was thankful they came out," Rivera said. "I needed them there, and they were there."

The Yankees entered the campaign with championship aspirations, as per usual in the Bronx, but injuries took their toll. Manager Joe Girardi never seemed to be able to field his complete lineup, a trend that began in Spring Training with hits to key cogs like Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira.

Girardi's Yankees secured 85 victories despite their revolving cast of characters, but that win total was not enough to prevent missing the playoffs for the second time in the last 19 seasons. The club set a franchise record by utilizing 56 players during the season, listed alphabetically from David Adams to Mike Zagurski.

Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said at the end of the season that the organization's focus remains the same, to win a championship, and that "if we don't win a championship, we know that there's improvement that needs to be done."

The Yankees moved swiftly to retain Girardi as manager, and in the months since, ensured that the roster that takes the field on Opening Day 2014 will look much different. Robinson Cano and Granderson are among those who have departed, while Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran headline the earliest additions.

"I think there's some more things in the works that we're trying to do," Girardi said last week.

Here is one final look back at the highs and lows of 2013, recapped by the top five storylines of the calendar year:

5. Ichiro 4K

The Yankees' season featured a fun milestone chase that drew international attention, as Ichiro Suzuki collected his 4,000th career hit -- combining his Major League and Nippon Professional Baseball statistics. The Aug. 22 game halted to honor Ichiro, who was applauded at first base by the entire Yankees roster.

Ichiro collected 1,278 hits as a member of the Orix Blue Wave from 1992-2000. He joined Pete Rose (4,256) and Ty Cobb (4,191) as the only players with at least 4,000 hits when combining totals from the highest levels in the United States and Japan.

"That's a lot of hits, man. It's pretty impressive," Jeter said. "I don't care if it's 4,000 in Little League. It shows how consistent he's been throughout his career."

4. Alfonso Soriano's historic hot streak

No matter what becomes of Corey Black, the pitcher the Yankees shipped to the Cubs in a late July trade, it is likely that New York still will view their end of the deal as a winner. Soriano seemed to be rejuvenated by putting the pinstripes back on, and he was never hotter than a memorable four-game stretch in August.

Soriano tied a Major League record with 18 RBIs over that span, going 13-for-18 with five homers against the Angels and Red Sox. The veteran slugger provided a right-handed power presence that the Yankees desperately needed, slugging 17 homers in 58 games with New York, and is expected to split his time between the outfield and designated hitter in 2014.

3. Injuries, injuries and more injuries

Things finally seemed to be sticking to the script on July 28, as Derek Jeter returned from the disabled list for the second time and slugged the first pitch he saw from the Rays' Matt Moore over the wall. It was only a cruel tease in what Jeter called a "nightmare" season, as he played in just four games before going back on the disabled list.

At least Jeter had plenty of company, as the Yankees' most recognizable faces seemed to be perpetually stationed at the training grounds in Tampa, Fla. instead of participating in the big league season. The Yanks used the disabled list 28 times for 21 different players. While the Yanks enjoyed contributions from patchwork replacements like Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells, they still combined to lose a total of 1,287 games to the disabled list.

2. Alex Rodriguez's continuing drama

It is remarkable to consider that, despite the gallons of ink already spilled to detail A-Rod's trials and tribulations of 2013, a final resolution is still not expected before the new year. There were no shortage of storylines this year involving Rodriguez, who rehabbed from left hip surgery only to be hit with a record-setting ban on Aug. 5, based on his alleged use and possession of numerous prohibited performance-enhancing substances over the course of multiple years.

Rodriguez appealed the suspension and played out the remainder of the season, batting .244 with seven homers and 19 RBIs in 44 games, but his action was just beginning. Rodriguez said that he would be "fighting for my life" in the appeal of the suspension, assembling an expensive legal dream team that filed lawsuits against Major League Baseball and Yankees team physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad.

With his appeal underway, Rodriguez angrily stormed out of a Nov. 20 meeting when independent arbitrator Fredric Horowitz ruled that Commissioner Bud Selig was not required to testify in the case. That day, Rodriguez appeared as an unannounced guest on WFAN and told host Mike Francesa, "I'm done. I don't have a chance." Horowitz's final ruling is expected to be delivered shortly after Jan. 1.

1. Farewell to Mariano (and Andy, too)

The tributes began in Spring Training, as Rivera held a news conference to announce what many suspected; the 2013 season would be his last as a Major League player. Over the next six months, each Yankees road stop celebrated the all-time saves leader in its own way, as Rivera collected a bounty of treasures that included a rocking chair made of broken bats, a surfboard, bicycles, deep sea fishing equipment, a Metallica gold record -- pretty much everything a retiring legend could ever dream of needing.

Rivera also gave back to each city, carving out time for emotional meetings with a variety of people behind the scenes, including office personnel, stadium workers and long-time season ticket holders. Universally, Rivera's gentlemanly demeanor and class on the diamond were praised.

Later in the season, Rivera would open up about how difficult it had been to return from his knee injury, and how there had been strong temptation to quit during rehab. On the mound, Rivera often looked like he had not skipped a beat, posting a 2.11 ERA and recording 44 saves to finish with 652 for his career.

Rivera's exit was no secret by September, but he had company. Pettitte kept his intentions quiet until his final Yankee Stadium start appeared on the calendar, but he, too, was ready to call it a career (for the second time). Pettitte emptied the tank for a final Stadium start on Sept. 22 and a complete game in Houston on Sept. 28.

"It's a shame we've got to get old, and you can't just continue to play this game," Pettitte said. "But just how blessed and fortunate I am, to be able to play a game and get paid to do it, it's just been incredible."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.
Read More: New York Yankees, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Alfonso Soriano, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte