"I thought the club played as Mr. Steinbrenner would have expected," Joe Girardi said late Friday night, and your first response should be "Come on, now!" George would've expected a 22-0 victory and a humiliation of the Rays severe enough that they'd dismantle altogether, ceding the Tampa Bay area to Steinbrenner's Yankees.
However, The Boss didn't mind occasional drama as long as it ended the right way. And this turned out to be one of those magical Yankee Stadium nights, with great theater from first speech to final pitch.
Nick Swisher, a product of Steinbrenner's beloved Ohio State Buckeyes, tied the game with an eighth-inning homer. Then Swisher delivered the walk-off hit, his ninth-inning single to rightfield driving in Curtis Granderson for a 5-4 victory, saluting the memories of Steinbrenner and beloved public-address announcer Bob Sheppard.
"It was important for us to win this game tonight," an emotional Jorge Posada said.
As wonderful a job as the team did in the pregame ceremony, you know that the co-honoree himself, Steinbrenner, would've simply growled had the result not been to his liking: "Maybe if you had spent more time preparing for the game, and less time with all of those bells and whistles, you wouldn't have tossed this one away!"
Indeed, at the game's outset, both the Yankees and the fans seemed out of it. Drained, perhaps, by the emotions of what transpired from 6:45 to 7. And while the team did well by not using the PA system - as a tribute to Sheppard - it did make the place seem quieter.
The Yankees fell behind 2-0, then 3-1, then 4-3, and as Steinbrenner highlights played between innings on the ginormous Stadium scoreboard, you could envision The Boss ordering his staff to turn off the nonsense.
But Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia hung in there despite not having his best stuff. He allowed a run to score in the seventh, but minimized the damage after allowing the Rays to load the bases with no outs.
Such grittiness by Sabathia would've earned a "Warrior" compliment from Steinbrenner, Girardi said. Agreed.
Swisher's blast tied it in the eighth, and in the ninth, it seemed so fitting when the Yankees put men on first and second with one out and Derek Jeter at the plate. The captain had distinguished himself with a great speech before the game - "clear, concise and correct," just as Sheppard would've requested - and what better way could he have ended it?
Alas, he struck out against reliever Dan Wheeler, and in a rare display of vulnerability, he said afterward: "When you're in those situations, you want to try to just bear down, want to make it seem like it's just another at-bat. But I probably tried to do a little too much there. It probably had some effect."
Yet Jeter did help another poetic angle come to light. Jeter, who spent one semester at the University of Michigan, always used to have Michigan-Ohio State trash talks with Steinbrenner. "The Boss didn't like Michigan," Jeter joked, "so I figured I'd strike out and let The Boss get one final victory."
It worked. Swisher came through. Mariano Rivera, who had laid two roses at home plate before the game, received the victory. The voice of Sheppard wished everyone a good night, and urged the crowds to drive safely.
"Yeah, it's just one of those moments," Jeter said. "Another one of those special moments at Yankee Stadium." But, you know, The Boss probably wouldn't mind seeing more of a blowout Saturday.