Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
If you were one of the many fans howling at Joe Girardi earlier this postseason, livid over his no-challenge gaffe in the AL Division Series, you'd better be lining up to dole out kudos now.
It's only right.
Because whatever happens the rest of this October for the Yankees, Girardi has managed a helluva playoffs, aside from that brain lock against Cleveland. Sure, his explanation afterward was inane, so much claptrap about not wanting to break up Chad Green's rhythm, but Girardi backed off that the next day, admitted he blew it, offered a mea culpa.
He's been doing superb work since.
He and pitching coach Larry Rothschild plotted the starting rotations for both the division series and the AL Championship Series the right way. The starters have thrived, including CC Sabathia, the warhorse with a knee brace who delivered six killer shutout innings Monday night in the Yankees' 8-1 victory over Houston in Game 3 in the Bronx.
After watching the "smoke and mirrors" Sabathia - hey, he put it that way - baffle the Astros, it's easy to feel good about the Yankees chances if the series goes the limit. Sabathia is lined up to pitch a potential Game 7.
Girardi put him there, just like he put Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino up against the Astros lefty-righty ace pair, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander. Those are the two Yankees on the staff perhaps best equipped to trade zeroes with them.
Then there's the lineup. Girardi won't get a slice of the slugging percentage, but the manager perhaps deserves some credit for the home run Aaron Judge hit Monday night, too.
Girardi showed faith in his slumping right fielder, banking on Judge's talent and diligence and refusing to change his lineup, even as television talking heads such as his old third baseman, Alex Rodriguez, offered all manner of unsolicited advice on demoting Judge in the order.
Good work by Girardi tuning out the din. We could all use a pair of his noise-canceling headphones. And a little bit of the kind of trust he shows his players, especially the young ones.
Yes, Judge struck out twice again. But he had a monster game overall: a three-run homer and a walk. Plus, a dynamite catch in right field in which he thudded against the wall and went sprawling and another grab where he dove forward for more hit robbery.
In his postgame press conference, Girardi explained why he stuck with Judge, saying, "I think that in the struggles he's still been pretty patient.
"Yeah, he gets a little bit off mechanically. I think part of that is probably being 6-7. And I felt like there's been some borderline pitches called on him that didn't go his way."
It's "a big difference" being ahead in the count, 2-1, or behind, 1-2, Girardi said. He added, "I think he's extremely talented. You can look at his numbers and say he's not hitting for an average. We've played how many playoff games, nine? He gets seven RBIs, he gets his walk, got another one (Monday). I know how dangerous he is. He can really change a game really quickly."
Girardi showed the same kind of faith in Gary Sanchez, leaving him in the cleanup spot. Sanchez was 0-for-4 Monday to fall to 0-for-11 with five strikeouts in the series. But there's still time for Sanchez to impact the series, and at least Girardi has given the young catcher one less thing to think about by simply filling in Sanchez's name in the same spot on the lineup card.
It's all part of Girardi knowing that any such move would be perceived as Yankee panic. And why should they panic? Before they trimmed the Astros' series lead to two games to one, they had lost two achingly-close decisions in Houston, losing 2-1 both times. His team wasn't overmatched, just edged in two taut games between two good teams.
So the manager just kept managing. It's mostly worked so far. The one night it didn't, he paid the price with a loss and then a few days later when he was booed lustily at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankee players seemed to rally behind him after that. After the Yanks beat Cleveland in the ALDS, Todd Frazier said, "This one's for Joe." It seemed genuine.
Even if it was just a convenient narrative for Girardi and the rest of the Yankees to rally around, it's worked. And Girardi certainly got a better reception Monday night.
"I think it's a reminder how quickly things can change in your life," Girardi said.
Just like this series has, in part because of Girardi's faith. And the way he's managed.