HOUSTON - The Yankees could not have scripted the exits of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte any better during what turned out to be a magical end for a season that fell short of October.
But this is no time to say goodbye to Joe Girardi, too.
Girardi, speaking Sunday before Game No. 162, acted as if it is no slam dunk that he will return for a seventh year as manager of the Yankees. And really, from a negotiating standpoint, that's the right play.
Like Robinson Cano, he'll be a free agent in a few weeks, and Girardi is not without other options. The Nationals and Mariners already have openings and Girardi's hometown Cubs are mulling over Dale Sveum's future.
Beyond the dugout, Girardi also reminded us again Sunday of the broadcast booth, where he spent the 2007 season doing games for YES and Fox after the Marlins fired him. The more family-friendly schedule could be appealing to Girardi, who insists that consulting with his wife, Kim, and their three kids will be a major factor in the upcoming decision.
Sorry, Joe, but we're not buying it.
The family part, sure. There's no doubt Girardi will sit down for what he called a dinnertime "powwow'' with his crew to poll how everyone feels about his job opportunities. But this whole idea of Girardi possibly walking away from the Yankees before his 49th birthday next month?
No way. Not happening.
Talk all you want about the upheaval in the Bronx and the teary dissolution of the Core Four. But we get the sense Girardi still has the competitive fire to manage, and if that's the case, why do it anywhere else but with the Yankees? Girardi earned his championship pedigree in pinstripes and, by all accounts, enjoys a good working relationship with the front office.
While some may view the Yankees as a baseball power in decline, Girardi doesn't sound like the type to forfeit one of the greatest job titles in all of sports just because of a few storm clouds gathering. "There's no challenge that really scares me, that I would ever shy away from,'' he said. "So that has very little impact on it whatsoever.''
And the money? When asked how much the dollars will matter, Girardi held up his right hand and curled his fingers to form a zero. But after an expiring contract that paid him $9 million over three years, Girardi is smart enough to know the cash won't be an issue -- and the Yankees must realize he's worth it.
Look across town, where the Mets on Monday will announce a two-year extension for Terry Collins, a media-savvy manager they believe is a good fit for a still-maturing team that has lacked talent or the financial resources to buy some since Collins was first hired in 2011.
This is not to compare Collins -- who has a .462 winning percentage with the Mets -- to Girardi, a World Series winner. It's just how the circumstances can be tailored to a specific manager.
With the Yankees missing big chunks of their $230-million payroll this season, Girardi was forced to cycle through 56 players and still remained in playoff contention until the final week. He handled the Alex Rodriguez sideshow as well as or better than any other manager could have. And when the time came for those emotional farewells to Rivera and Pettitte, it was Girardi who orchestrated the perfect Hallmark moments -- as only someone linked to that Core Four era could dream up.
By making sure Girardi stays, the Yankees will maintain a crucial bridge from that past glory to what they intend to be another successful run. Girardi knows the Yankee Way. He's been schooled in it as both a player and manager. That continuity now is more important than ever for the Yankees, and Derek Jeter -- facing an uncertain future himself -- can't do it alone.
New York feels like home to Girardi now, and despite the speculation about the Cubs' job tied to his Chicago roots, he said Sunday that he no longer has much of a connection there. Not like the one he's developed over the years to the Yankees, and one that is in both parties' best interests to continue.
"It's not my personality to drag things out,'' Girardi said of his decision. "I've always been a guy that likes to know what I'm going to do the next day.''
With so many questions swirling around the Yankees, the sooner they can remove Girardi from that list, the better.