ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.
The tension seemed so thick in Joe Girardi's office late Monday night, you could have cut it with Derek Jeter's batting average.
In the wake of an 11-inning, 1-0 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field, Joe Girardi didn't want to answer questions about his relievers' availability. Or about Brett Gardner's running mistake. Or even a softball from YES' Kimberly Jones about bouncing back from such a tough loss, as the manager snapped at Jones on-camera.
Yet if Girardi seemed miserable in that setting, his in-game managing philosophy emphasizes the big picture, rather than any imperative to win any one game. And such an approach has the support of his boss.
"We need to get to the postseason first and foremost, and if we get there, we need to be healthy," Brian Cashman told Newsday's Erik Boland. "I'll sacrifice position in the standings to be healthy in October."
Did Girardi's moves in last night's 8-7 victory over the Rays promote such an attitude, however? As Yankees starting pitcher Ivan Nova got bounced during a seven-run fifth, Girardi found himself turning to lefty Boone Logan, and righty Kerry Wood took over in the eighth. Both men were making their fourth appearances in five days. David Robertson, meanwhile - one of the pitchers who was unavailable Monday - warmed in the bullpen for the fourth time in the top of the ninth before entering the game in the bottom of the inning.
Girardi's big-picture approach went on full display Monday, as Wood, Logan, Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre followed CC Sabathia, who pitched eight brilliant, shutout innings. Joba Chamberlain and Robertson rested because of recent use, Girardi said, while the team held on to Mariano Rivera for a one-inning save situation. Rivera should've entered the tie game and thrown one inning.
The Yankees skipper's recent sour mood and backfiring strategy have resulted in many of the team's fans either wondering whether Girardi will leave for the Cubs or hoping he does. He reported to work Tuesday in a better mood and, at the urging of a team official, more expansive about his thinking.
"We make a card every day. It has the week's workload [for relievers]," Girardi said. "If you have a red star by your name, you're probably not pitching. Lately, I've had a lot of red stars.
"I sure wouldn't want to go into the playoffs with two of our righthanders on the [disabled list]. It's not what you want."
Now in his third season on the job, Girardi has intermittently struggled with clubhouse management, media relations and in-game strategy. His running of the bullpen, however, has been a strength.
"I want a team ready to play to its maximum potential in October," Cashman said. "I want to win the division, without question, but if I have injury problems . . . I don't want guys playing with ailments that linger into October."
Girardi appeared refreshed Tuesday afternoon. He has improved at shaking off losses, he insisted: "I get up, I prepare for the day. Same routine. Coffee, egg white sandwich, work out, watch video. That doesn't change a whole lot for me."
His players used to feel that tension, yet Wood - a teammate of Girardi's with the Cubs - said: "There's no panic. He's pretty laid-back." Wood even compared him to the player-friendly Dusty Baker, although Wood noted, "Dusty got a little more fired up."
Girardi tenses up, rather than firing up. That didn't make a difference last October, however, and it won't this time, either, if the September decisions result in another parade.