CLEVELAND — We all know there was a turbulent stretch of franchise history in which Joe Girardi might not have even made it to the team plane with his job intact when the Yankees trudged back home with their heads down and their hearts crushed following his monumental managerial gaffe in Game 2 of the AL division series last week.
Girardi and his resilient team now have made it back to Cleveland with an improbable crack at extending their season of transition and rebirth into the next round of the postseason, of somehow surviving and advancing when all appeared lost, after coming back from 0-2 down to force a decisive Game 5 on Wednesday night at Progressive Field.
As much as everyone rightly was infuriated by his brain cramp and his initial defense of it last Friday, Girardi’s decade-long tenure with the Yanks should not have ended then, nor should it end now, regardless of the result of Game 5.
“I mean, obviously, it’s really important for the guys, the organization, the ownership, management, the fan base. You really want to move on,” Girardi said on Tuesday. “We got back to this spot by battling and fighting, and we’re going to need to do it again.
“So it’s a really important game.”
It had been easy to forget or overlook for a few days that it was Girardi who guided the transitioning Yanks to an overachieving 91-win regular season few outside their clubhouse saw coming.
Or that he managed among the finest games of his career in the one-game AL wild-card elimination, navigating through 26 bullpen outs to oust Minnesota and advance to the ALDS for the first time since 2012.
Or that he now is 3-0 in elimination games this postseason as compared to heralded counterpart Terry Francona, who has dropped five straight potential close-out games since taking a 3-1 lead in the World Series last October.
Joe Girardi deserves a ton of credit for guiding his team and bullpen to a victory in the wild-card game.
(Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)
That certainly and deservedly didn’t stop us from invoking the classic back page of yesteryear — “Clueless Joe” after the Yanks hired Joe Torre more than two decades ago – and aptly turning it into “Reviewless Joe” following his failure to call for a replay review on a foul tip into Gary Sanchez’s glove. Not to mention a couple of other questionable tactical decisions, which altogether likely would have prevented the Indians from storming back from a five-run deficit to pull off a 9-8 miracle win in Game 2.
It also didn’t deter the hometown fans from letting Girardi clearly know about their displeasure, be it livid calls to sports radio or vitriolic posts on social media or, especially, the hearty boos that he felt compelled to warn his children about before they thundered down upon him during pregame introductions before Game 3 at the Stadium.
Goodwill only goes so far in New York, and rightly so, as Terry Collins found out across town this year, and as Giants GM Jerry Reese might soon be learning about nearly six years removed from the Giants’ two latest Super Bowl victories.
Girardi at least offered a day-late “I screwed up” mea culpa regarding his Game 2 gaffe. He even added some additional introspection ahead of Game 3 while discussing his uncertain future and then exhibited some rare teary-eyed emotion on Monday night.
Girardi choked up in the interview room following his team’s series-evening 7-3 win, describing Game 2 as “as difficult a loss as I’ve had as a manager…because I care so much.”
That level of concern, he was quick to stress, was not about his own status, but “about everyone else that is involved and wrapped up in Yankee baseball.”
“It’s a totally different feeling than the other day,” he said late Monday night, “and these guys have picked me up.”
Now, we will find out if CC Sabathia and his teammates can pick up Girardi one more time against Indians ace Corey Kluber, and especially if the Yankee bats can scratch across a few more runs against the likely Cy Young winner after getting to him for a half-dozen in 2 2/3 innings before the manager’s mistake and the bullpen’s implosion in Game 2.
Either way, that error in judgment shouldn’t be the impetus for Girardi’s ouster when his contract expires at season’s end — assuming he still wants to return, that is. Not after everything that went right this season with a young team few gave the chance to make it to the playoffs, let alone within one win of advancing to the ALCS following three postseason whiffs the previous four years.
GM Brian Cashman and upper management obviously have taken notes on everything that has transpired — the good, the bad and the in-between — and at the very least will bring up all of it during exit meetings with the manager and during any potential future negotiations for a new deal.
It still shouldn’t in any way mean that Joe Must Go.
While impetuous former owner George Steinbrenner in his heyday might not have allowed Girardi to board that flight home last Friday, the more measured Hal Steinbrenner did.
Girardi’s continued piloting has helped all involved earn one more return flight to Cleveland, with the possibility still for another trip to Houston later this week.
As maddening and major as it was, as much as Girardi will have to continue to own it if the Yanks fall short, he’s more than earned another run in pinstripes.