10/26/09 3:03 AM ET
Girardi comfortable with his moves
Tough calls part of job for Yankees skipper in playoffs
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
As Girardi knows full well from all the time he's spent in the New York market, the scrutiny never goes away, especially when you are the one filling out the lineup card for the most storied franchise in the history of baseball.
So after the Yankees punched their ticket to the World Series with a 5-2 win over the Angels in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Sunday, Girardi could finally relax just a little.
The World Series starts on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium against the Phillies.
"We obviously have one more goal," Girardi said. "We'll get started on that on Wednesday, but we want to enjoy this right now. I'm actually going to sleep tonight, but we'll start going to work tomorrow on [the Phillies]."
Though the Yankees wound up prevailing in the ALCS, Girardi took plenty of heat along the way, as some key decisions backfired.
But several of them also worked perfectly, in particular his decision to start Andy Pettitte for Game 6, even though series MVP CC Sabathia could have made that start on regular rest thanks to Saturday's rainout.
Girardi understands the nature of New York, having spent time there as a player, coach and broadcaster before becoming the manager in 2008. The Yankees have won 26 World Series championships, and Girardi will try to help get them to the promised land for the first time since 2000.
While Girardi had varying degrees of success in the ALCS, what never changed was his demeanor. He can live with the results, because he understands the preparation he has done.
Girardi seems completely at peace with his position and all the pressure that comes with it.
"You're under a microscope, and you understand that being here," Girardi said. "You understand it to a certain degree as a player. You understand it to a certain degree when you watch as a coach as you are working under Joe Torre. And you understand a lot better when you're actually sitting in that chair.
"And as I've said all along, every move is not going to work out. That's the bottom line. That's the human element of it. You prepare yourself for moves to work out. We had a lot of moves work out this year, but we've had moves that haven't worked out. And that's why we haven't won every game."
But they've won plenty -- 110, including the seven thus far in the postseason. And now, the Yankees are back in the World Series for the first time since 2003.
One move Girardi was questioned for before Game 6 even started was sticking with heavily slumping right fielder Nick Swisher when he could have inserted Jerry Hairston Jr.
Swisher rewarded the faith of his manager with a key single that helped spark New York's three-run fourth inning.
While media and fan reaction is almost always for change when a player isn't going well, Girardi opted to stick with Swisher. Why?
"The interesting thing about that, he has pretty decent numbers off of [Joe] Saunders," said Girardi. "He was 1-for-2 with a walk in [Game 2]. People were asking me if I was going to give up on Johnny Damon; Johnny Damon has turned it around. You know, the one thing, Swisher is not a platoon player. Swisher has been an everyday right fielder that has put up good numbers for us. Yeah, he's struggled, but he's had some good at-bats. He had some good at-bats off of Saunders, and we're sticking with him."
Even if Swisher had gone 0-fer in Game 6 and the Yankees had lost, Girardi would have been secure with the decision, because he knows the preparation that went into it.
The same goes for his most second-guessed move of the ALCS. In the 11th inning of Game 3, when the Yankees had a chance to take a 3-0 lead in the series, Girardi pulled reliever David Robertson with two outs and nobody on base. He brought in Alfredo Aceves. The move backfired, with Howard Kendrick belting a single and Jeff Mathis hitting a walk-off RBI double.
A day after that disastrous result, Girardi firmly -- and non-defensively -- stood by his process.
"I did not have the feeling that it was a mistake because of the preparation that we did before the game and our reasoning for using Ace," Girardi said. "And the only reason I don't necessarily tell you exactly why I did it is because then you give away a game plan and what you're trying to do to certain hitters. I did think about it. You always think about it. But I still feel that it was the move that we would have made, and it just didn't work out."
In Game 5, Girardi again raised some eyebrows. A.J. Burnett gave up four runs in the first, but then settled down nicely and fired five consecutive scoreless innings. After the Yankees stunned the Angels and overturned a 4-0 deficit with six two-out runs in the top of the seventh, Girardi brought back Burnett -- just 80 pitches through six -- for the seventh. Burnett began the inning by allowing two baserunners, and Girardi then had to go to his setup crew in mid-inning. It didn't work, and the Angels won the game.
"The interesting thing is, as a player, you can get second-guessed a little bit," Girardi said. "As a manager, when things don't work out, you're going to be second-guessed a lot. That's the bottom line. You understand that things could be worse. You could not be managing, right? It's something you have to deal with."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia deals with it, too, though not in the New York market. Still, he understands what Girardi goes through on a daily basis, and why the general public might not always understand what goes into some of the more controversial moves that might be made over the course of a game or a series.
Simply the best
"There's not a guy around that knows the Yankee team better than Joe Girardi," said Scioscia. "I think as a role of the manager, as our staff talks about, there can't be anybody around that knows the team better than I do or our staff does. So you make decisions along those lines, and you have to live with them. And it's all good baseball discussion, though."
If his team can get those four more wins they are seeking, Girardi will join Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, Bucky Harris, Casey Stengel, Ralph Houk, Billy Martin, Bob Lemon and Torre in that distinguished club of Yankees managers who have won it all.
"I think it's important for managers," Girardi said. "Obviously, your players have a lot to do with that and the way they perform. I've said all along that we like the team that we have. We've played very well up until this point. And I think, you know, when managers or players are part of World Series championship teams, it seems to validate their career more."
"I think skip does a great job," said Swisher. "He's a great people person. Great family man, great manager. You're not going to find anything bad coming out of my mouth."
Though there are inherent pressures that come with managing the Yankees, Girardi doesn't sound like a man who would trade his position for anything.
"I feel that I'm blessed," Girardi said. "I think that, you know, I can look at a lot more than just being the manager of the Yankees. I have a wonderful wife and three wonderful kids that have been there the whole way for me. I had a wonderful childhood. I had a wonderful baseball career. So I've been extremely blessed in my life. And being the Yankee manager, that's how I feel."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.