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A-Rod, Nova make Girardi's job easier

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi speaks during

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi speaks during a news conference after a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox. (May 14, 2011) Credit: AP

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.

"You've got a tough job over there right now," Rays senior baseball adviser Don Zimmer said, nodding toward the Yankees' dugout, late Tuesday afternoon at Tropicana Field.

"You've got guys with seven years left on a contract who are [35] years old right now. The team's getting old. And they're getting old at the same time. And it makes it tough."

Zimmer's protege Joe Girardi has that tough job, and he's in a better place now thanks to that guy with seven years left on a contract.

Alex Rodriguez crushed two solo homers; Jorge Posada ripped two hits in his first start following his Saturday shutdown; and David Robertson performed another one of his Houdini acts. The Yankees' six-game losing streak is over, thanks to a 6-2 victory over the Rays and starting pitcher "Big Game James" Shields.

"It's a big win for us," Girardi said. "We needed that win."

At 21-19, the Yankees now trail Tampa Bay (24-18) by two games in the American League East and they departed for Baltimore in relative peace. Yet Zimmer's words still resonate: This team is old in many important places, and as we saw this past week, it has the capacity to be grumpy, too.

Thus it falls upon Girardi to do more managing of people than the gig required his first three seasons here. That, as you probably know, isn't his strength. His strength is bullpen management, a task that also has grown more challenging thanks to grumpy Rafael Soriano's move to the disabled list.

"I believe my job is to get the best out of my players," Girardi said prior to the game. "That's what my job is, first and foremost. Whatever I have to do to do that, I try to do. So that could be a number of different things."

It could be covering for his players, as he largely did for Posada over the weekend. Although Girardi has to take his share of the blame for Posada's initial meltdown.

It could be his indirect yet obvious smackdown of the mopey Soriano, who -- while speaking with reporters late Monday night -- pointed a finger at the team's offense for the recent malaise.

"My thought is, we win as a team and we lose as a team," Girardi said. "And everyone on this club can always do a bit more. So you can take that for what it's worth."

Tension abounds: Posada and Derek Jeter vs. Girardi and the front office. Soriano vs. pretty much everyone.

"I don't think there is a problem in the clubhouse," Girardi said. "But I do believe there's frustration."

Eh. He would never admit to the presence of a problem. For what it's worth, I think there's more tension than usual. Yet it won't necessarily sink the Yankees' season.

No, it can be overcome with full-team efforts like Tuesday night. With at least some of the Yankees' regulars waking up. With rookie starting pitcher Ivan Nova, who overcame a terrible previous start against Kansas City, pitching up to his potential.

And, lest we forget, with upgrades likely coming during the season. Either from the farm system or in a trade.

For now, though, the Yankees have the talent to keep up with the Rays and Red Sox. And their drama quotient dropped with just this one good result.

"Obviously, we hadn't been out there to shake hands for a week," Girardi said. "That's frustrating."

It's up to the manager to minimize the frustration. The potential exists for plenty of it.

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