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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Big win for Yankees, but a must-win? C'mon!

Mariano Rivera and Ichiro Suzuki of the Yankees

Mariano Rivera and Ichiro Suzuki of the Yankees celebrate after defeating the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. (April 4, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

This is what it has come to so far for the Yankees: Joe Girardi admitted that Thursday night's game against the Red Sox was "pretty important."

It was the third game of the season.

Guess you can't blame Girardi. The Yankees had lost the first two and looked bad doing it, which sparked fears of a season-long pinstriped decline the likes of which we haven't seen since Stump Merrill sat in the manager's chair.

That still might happen, even after Thursday night's Andy Pettitte-fueled 4-2 win at Yankee Stadium. But it's silly to think starting 0-3 would have doomed the Yankees for the rest of the season.

You have to go all the way back to 2012 to find the last time the Yankees lost their first three games.

What was the price of gas in 2012? How about bread? Who was the president? Jay Leno, if you recall, was the host of "The Tonight Show."

Boy, those were simpler times.

A year ago, the Yankees shook off the season-opening sweep by the Rays to win 95 games and the AL East title.

In 1998, the Yankees also started 0-3. They went on to a then-AL record 114 wins and a World Series sweep.

Having said that, these Yankees aren't either of those Yankees. That's why Girardi didn't want to lose with Pettitte on the mound, especially considering that his injury-depleted squad has a tough turnaround with a day game Friday in Detroit for the Tigers' home opener.

"I don't think anyone wants it to go too far," Girardi said before the game. "No matter who you have in that clubhouse, I don't think you ever want to get off to where you feel like you dig yourself a hole. I think it's a pretty important game for us. I don't think it's a do-or-die game for us. But I think it's an important game for us."

Girardi changed his lineup for the series finale, moving Robinson Cano, Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner up from 3-4-5 the night before to 2-3-4.

Panic moves? Nah. Girardi said he did it to break up the Brett Gardner-Ichiro Suzuki-Cano all-lefty top three. Until a majority from the quartet of Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez return, the Yankees' order will not strike fear in opponents' hearts no matter how the manager tinkers.

The lineup swap didn't have a big impact on the Yankees' first two runs, which came on Lyle Overbay's two-out, two-run single in the second inning.

Hafner did lead off the inning against Ryan Dempster with a single. But the big hits were Eduardo Nuñez's ground-rule double with two outs and Overbay's looping single.

Not only was it the Yankees' first lead of 2013, it was their first since Game 5 of last year's ALDS against Baltimore. They never led in the four-game sweep by Detroit in the ALCS.

Gardner made it 3-0 in the third with a leadoff homer to right and Francisco Cervelli went deep in the seventh after the Red Sox had gotten back a run. That gave the Yankees some breathing room, and with Pettitte (eight innings, one run) in vintage form and Mariano Rivera collecting the first save of his last season, there finally was reason to celebrate in the chilly Bronx.

Was it a must-win? You decide. Either way, Girardi had the right man on the mound in Pettitte.

"Andy's pitched in games that were must-win situations, or as close to it as possible," Girardi had said. "And I'm not saying that's one of those tonight."

He didn't have to say it. His willingness to entertain the thought said enough.

New York Sports