By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Time is working against the aging core of the New York Yankees, but a rejuvenated Derek Jeter and a flourishing Robinson Cano have them believing they can add to their record haul with a 28th World Series.
Team captain Jeter is 38, slugger Alex Rodriguez is 37 and key pitcher Andy Pettitte is 40, but Yankees manager Joe Girardi prefers to extol the big-game experience they bring to the diamond rather than dwell on how close to retirement they are.
"The guys have been through so many playoff games," Girardi said after the Yankees had held off a September charge by the Baltimore Orioles that made the last month of the season a daily grind to stay on top.
"It's like every series was like a playoff series," he added. "No one panicked. Just says experience pays off."
Jeter, in fact, made a mockery of the age issue as he produced a vintage season at age 38.
The Yankee shortstop led the American League with 216 hits and batted .316, three points higher than his career batting average, while Cano was simply the hottest hitter on the planet over the last days of the season.
The Dominican second baseman finished the season with nine successive multi-hit games, going 24-for-39 at the plate to hit at a stunning .615 clip as the Yankees finished strong to win the AL East and post the best record in the American League.
New York prevailed despite injuries that ended the season of all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera, sidelined speedy Brett Gardner, forced Rodriguez out for nearly six weeks with a broken hand, twice disabled ace left-hander CC Sabathia, put Pettitte on the shelf with a fractured ankle and hampered Mark Teixeira.
"This division title meant a lot because of what we were able to overcome," manager Girardi said after clinching the AL's top-seeding in the postseason with a 14-2 rout of the Red Sox in the last game of the season to reach 95 wins.
"The injuries, all the age we had on our roster, lots of things we had to deal with, what our guys have been able to overcome and watching so many different people step up for us."
Filling their biggest need was Rafael Soriano, who took over as closer after Rivera, 42, hurt himself shagging fly balls in the outfield during batting practice early in the season.
Soriano saved 42 games in 46 chances replacing Rivera, who along with Pettitte and Jeter has won five World Series rings with the Yanks during this golden stretch dating back to 1996.
Their emphatic clinching win was driven by a superb performance by Japanese starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who improved to 16-11, and the Yanks' familiar long ball attack featuring a pair of homers from both Cano and Curtis Granderson.
Granderson registered a career high 43 home runs and Cano added 33 along with a .313 batting average as the Yankees lived up to their ‘Bombers' nickname by setting a franchise record with 245 homers for the season.
A late-season spark was supplied by Ichiro Suzuki, obtained in a trade with Seattle, catcher Russell Martin started swinging a hot bat and bench players made contributions including veteran outfielder Raul Ibanez and young infielder Eduardo Nunez.
Sharing the infield with shortstop Jeter and third baseman Rodriguez, the 29-year-old Cano was asked whether it was time to acknowledge he was now the top hitter on the team.
"I just want to learn from them, the guys that have been here for a long time. Just learn from them," he said after going 4-for-4 and driving in six runs in the finale against Boston.
"When they leave and retire then you say, 'now it's my time.' While they're here, I just appreciate I'm playing next to a Hall of Famer and enjoy it."
(Editing by Gene Cherry)