David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
HOUSTON - Subtract the emotional farewell for Mariano Rivera, and 2013 turned out to be a black hole of a season for the Yankees, right down to the place where it ended: Minute Maid Park.
That final series was such an afterthought that Rivera didn't even bother to throw a pitch in those last three games. Mo got his painting, received a heartfelt pat on the back from Roger Clemens and Joe Torre, then called it a career.
Not one player from the Sept. 29 starting lineup is currently on the 25-man roster. Still in the organization? Zoilo Almonte, John Ryan Murphy and Eduardo Nuñez (Brendan Ryan is on the disabled list).
If it wasn't for the DH used that weekend, we're not sure many of the Yankees even knew the Astros had switched to the American League.
The point is, 2013 has been flushed, and now the Yankees get their fresh start Tuesday night in the same unremarkable place where they kicked it to the curb last September. We'd say it feels appropriate, but that would mean the Yankees have any feeling at all about last year.
Like Bobby Valentine's managerial stint in Boston, which the Red Sox seem to deny ever happened, the Yankees have wiped 2013 from the memory banks. Spending nearly $500 million on free agents certainly helped them move on, but hey, whatever it takes to turn the page.
Some book a guys weekend in Vegas. For Brian Cashman, it's dropping $175 million on Masahiro Tanaka. After watching another great start Sunday by Michael Pineda, Cashman was asked if he believes the rotation and bullpen are better than a year ago, but he didn't want to waste a brain cell on the question.
"I do a lot of therapy and have purged last year's entire season and roster, so it's hard for me to compare," Cashman said. "It's a block. I have an actual mental block on everything that occurred in 2013 -- the unlucky '13. So I'm not in a comparative mode."
We'll let him skate on that one. It's easy enough to see how these Yankees differ from last season's broken bunch, but Cashman's luck also needs to improve. Too many of his '13 problems were the result of freakish injuries to key players, and it would be foolish to think the Yankees are out of the woods yet with some of them, particularly Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter.
Surviving the Grapefruit League is only the first step. But after the casualty count from March 2013, we can forgive the Yankees for being bullish on a handful of players who still face extra scrutiny from the rest of us.
After Teixeira assured everyone that his surgically repaired wrist was fine, he sat out the first week of Grapefruit games, then hit .086 (3-for-35) with a double and 11 strikeouts. On Friday, he admitted that he had altered his swing to protect the wrist, sapping his power. But not to worry: He had shaken off that bad habit in time to smack a few liners in his last Tampa tuneup.
Will that be sufficient? Tune in Tuesday. Even if the wrist is sound, he has to be over the injury mentally, too.
For Jeter, we won't bother going into it again, other than to say Joe Girardi will be watching him closely during these first few days to see how he is responding. Like Rivera, Jeter will get his Rocket send-off in the Astros series. But these ceremonies won't be the story with him this season, one in which he will be evaluated more critically than in any of his previous 19 years.
Jeter already has grown tired of that narrative. But with one more workout left, Monday afternoon at Minute Maid Park, he doesn't get to talk about the games yet. Just hypotheticals -- until the blessed relief of playing again. For real.
"You look forward to getting into the flow of the season," Jeter said as he prepared to leave Steinbrenner Field for the final time. "I'm looking forward to that."
The Yankees never have been more impatient for Opening Day. But the wait continues, and then it's the Astros, in Houston, again.
For those wondering, Matt Daley, one of seven Yankees pitchers, got the win in that 2013 finale. Cashman probably doesn't remember.