Yankees' journey begins with Girardi
New manager a wild card for team itching to take back crown
Joe Girardi sprinted up the left-field line, the stadium lights twinkling above him as the final out was recorded. His heart thumping only slightly, the Yankees manager greeted waiting reporters and spat out a few pithy quotes about that night's game.
The windy skies had made for tough conditions to pitch in. He wasn't concerned about the starting pitcher. All of his players got through the day healthy. The relievers threw the ball pretty well.
And with that, Girardi was off, dashing into the clubhouse in a two-minute, 11-second scene that summed up the bottom line of Spring Training and of Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.
This is no longer Joe Torre's team.
While the Yankees brought back largely the same core that won 94 games in 2007, plus one more in the American League Division Series, the biggest change is the presence of Girardi, a former Yankees player, coach and broadcaster who will now try his hand as the manager.
His debut season of 2006, when he guided the Marlins to 78 victories and took home a Manager of the Year Award, seems to have done Girardi well. His first spring at the helm, a cardio-intensive adventure, was largely well-run and uneventful, thanks in large part to the assistance of bench coach and camp coordinator Rob Thomson.
"There really haven't been too many surprises," Girardi said. "I've been extremely pleased with the way guys have played and performed. I think they did a good job of going out and getting players, adding to the depth of pitching. I haven't been real surprised."
Girardi threw batting practice, he joked with reporters, and his son, 6-year-old Dante, seemed to spend almost as much time on the field as the players, who largely offered Girardi rave reviews.
"I really don't think it's that much of an adjustment, at least for me, in terms of getting comfortable with him," Yankees shortstop and team captain Derek Jeter said. "I'm already comfortable with him."
"He's a hands-on guy," Jorge Posada said. "He's going to be a little more critical. He's going to be a little tougher on us than we've had in the past. Whenever something was going wrong, he would come up and tell you. That's the way he is. It's good to have a guy like that. That's the way he approaches things -- he'll tell you right away."
It wasn't always sunshine and smiles. Fans saw a snapshot of Girardi's fiery nature when the Yankees scuffled with the Rays at St. Petersburg on March 12, a follow-up to a hard home plate hit on rookie catcher Francisco Cervelli a week prior.
Immediately after that game, Girardi made it clear that he would be unafraid to voice an opinion, fuming at his desk and calling Elliot Johnson's ninth-inning collision "unnecessary," only one step shy of out-and-out terming it dirty.
Similarly, inheriting the manager's office after more than a decade of Torre's successes, Girardi did not shy away from making changes. One of the most noticeable was the removal of a policy prohibiting players from playing music in the clubhouse; previously, headphones and iPods had been the only way to hear anything but the usual in-room chatter.
Girardi is from a different school of thought than Torre, even though both were big league catchers and broadcasters, not to mention property of the Cardinals at various times.
His desk plays host to both a laptop computer and a personal digital assistant, and neither is there only for show -- one morning, with the Yankees' Virginia Tech game approaching, Girardi summoned the press into his office to boast that his prediction of a warm day in Blacksburg, Va., appeared to be coming true, according to the 10-day forecast.
"See? You've got to think positive," he said then, rotating the Accuweather screen for all to view.
That line of thinking is what led Girardi to select the uniform No. 27 when he was hired as the Yankees' manager in November. He knew that day, better than most, that the process was just beginning, with the Yankees' World Series title drought now at seven years and an impatient fan base growing hungrier by the second.
The Red Sox may be the defending world champions, but in Girardi's mind, his team should be the one to beat in the American League East. The journey begins March 31.
"It's just a goal," Girardi said. "I don't really worry about how it's perceived or why I took it from anyone. It's what our goal is. People in the clubhouse understand what that goal is, definitely. I think the fans know what the goal is."
TOR: RHP Roy Halladay (16-7, 3.71 ERA in 2007)
The Blue Jays ace is making his team-record sixth straight Opening Day start.
NYY: RHP Chien-Ming Wang (19-7, 3.70 ERA in 2007)
Wang has captured 19 victories in each of the past two seasons with New York.
Johnny Damon has logged the most career at-bats against Halladay, batting .328 (22-for-67) with three doubles, one home run and two RBIs. ... Jason Giambi has three career home runs off Halladay and is a .315 hitter (17-for-54) against him. ... The Yankees were 10-8 against Toronto in 2007, including 5-4 at Yankee Stadium. ... The Yankees have won three consecutive Opening Days and six of their last eight, including a 2003 opener at Toronto in which Roger Clemens outdueled Halladay.
WCBS 880 AM
Wednesday: Yankees (Mike Mussina, 11-10, 5.15 ERA) vs. Blue Jays (A.J. Burnett, 10-8, 3.75), 7:05 p.m. ET
Thursday: Yankees (Phil Hughes, 5-3, 4.46) vs. Blue Jays (Dustin McGowan, 12-10, 4.08), 7:05 p.m. ET
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.