Vernon Wells celebrates his eighth inning three-run home run with...

Vernon Wells celebrates his eighth inning three-run home run with Kevin Youkilis during a game against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. (April 3, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

It could be that a touch of gray suits the Yankees and their years and years of rich history. But there is no getting around the fact that their current collection of players makes them the oldest team in Major League Baseball -- average age 31 -- and that there can be a thin line between seasoned and worn-out, between seasoned and tumble-down.

Perhaps the team's list of incapacitated and walking wounded inaccurately accentuates the negative. Derek Jeter, 38; Alex Rodriguez, 37; Mark Teixeira, 33, and Curtis Granderson, 32, are on the disabled list. Andy Pettitte, 40, will next pitch Friday after missing a turn because his back locked up on him last week.

In Sunday night's starting lineup against the Baltimore Orioles, six of the nine Yankees hitters were over 30, as was pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who is a mature 38. Counting the healthy and unsound alike, seven of the team's eight infielders are on the far side of 30, as are four of its six outfielders. (The other two are 28 and 29.)

Then again, it has been the presence of four relative geezers, new to the Yankees but old hands in the sport, who have provided a sort of natural anti-aging secret in the face of lost manpower.

Kevin Youkilis, 34, was hitting .368 with two home runs and seven runs batted in as a temporary fix at third base for Rodriguez. Designated hitter Travis Hafner, 35, had similar numbers -- .303, three, seven. At 36, Lyle Overbay (.278, one, six) is filling in for Teixeira and Vernon Wells, 34, has fit right into the outfield (.333, three, five) with Granderson missing.

More than that, the four have established themselves as well-respected clubhouse residents.

"I think," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, "you're talking about high-character guys. Guys that have been calming influences in clubhouses over the years. Guys that have played in the American League East, in championship series. So I'm not really surprised.

"It isn't like we brought up four rookies or four one-year players and said, 'Hey, you're going to play an important role. You're going to go out and do the job and we want you to represent the club.' I think it came naturally to them because I think they've been in that position before. You think of Vernon Wells, he was a star in Toronto. You think of Hafner, he was a star in Cleveland. Youkilis was a star in Boston.

"It's not surprising, but I appreciate what they've done."

Besides, youth has not been a guarantee of invincibility. With Jeter unavailable to start the season, Girardi plugged 25-year-old Eduardo Nuñez into the shortstop job, but when Nuñez was hit by pitches in the right biceps and right wrist, Girardi had to turn to 30-year-old Jayson Nix.

And when Girardi chose to pinch hit for Nix in the eighth inning of Saturday's game in a last-ditch attempt to erase a two-run Baltimore lead, the Yankees suddenly were down to the No. 4 man on their shortstop depth chart. That was second baseman Robinson Cano, forcing catcher Francisco Cervelli to play an inning at second.

Neither Cano nor Cervelli had a ball hit in his direction, but Nuñez did find it "funny" to see the two in those unusual positions. Meanwhile, the sprightly Granderson, though counting on a return to centerfield when fully healthy -- there is no specific date -- volunteered: "Hey, I played short in high school. Sophomore year."

That was in the previous century.

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