NEW YORK -- Yankees manager Joe Girardi had an agitated pregame exchange with reporters Friday night. But by Sunday's series finale against the Red Sox he was back to normal -- which is to say, not drawing anymore attention to how he's resigned to the idea that if he keeps having to make bricks out of straw with the cold-hitting lineups and starting pitching he has to roll out, maybe someone will notice he actually does think a great deal about what he does. Like, all the time. OK? And he's actually pretty good at it, if he does say so himself. No, really.
That was Girardi's not-so-hidden point Friday when he launched into a long and irritable monologue about why he didn't skip Vidal Nuno in the Yanks' rotation with the Red Sox in town, before the Yanks went out that night and -- what do you know? -- won 6-0 anyway. But Sunday night's game at the Stadium was an even more vivid example of just how resourceful Girardi has had to be this season just to keep the Yankees afloat.
When Girardi felt the momentum turning in this game that the Yankees began by falling behind 4-0 early on, he made an aggressive decision to try to not to squander what spark of a chance they did create by removing starter Chase Whitley after Whitley walked the first batter he faced in the fifth. And things went completely ka-boom for the Yankees from there.
The fact that Girardi's decision backfired after they drew within 4-3 wasn't the point. That happens. The point was that he felt the need to make that kind of aggressive personal imprint on the game at all. Because it speaks volumes about his view of his club.
For all the needling Girardi takes about being Joey Binders, the Robo Manager with an overreliance on spreadsheets, the truth is very little about this Yankees team is reliable or predictable. And that puts more pressure on Girardi, the ultimate by-the-book skipper, to manage this team by feel and smoke-and-mirrors than he has ever had in his tenure here.
Some nights, it's as if Girardi himself has to be the Yankees' most valuable person. And when he, too, has an unlucky or off-night, this team of his really doesn't look like it has much chance to scratch out a win.
If anything, you wonder how the heck the Yanks even have the 41-39 record they do after losing to the Red Sox 8-5 Sunday to drop two out of three in this series to Boston, who rolled into town having lost six of nine.
Girardi isn't as homespun or good with an anecdote as some other managers. He doesn't prattle on about keeping an eye on the heartbeat of the game, like his predecessor Joe Torre did. And a lot of fans find him a hard man to warm up to because of all that.
But Girardi deserves credit for how good he has been at keeping the Yankees merely above .500. That's what that Friday's snit was about. His managing of his pitching staff and his bullpen may be his greatest strength, and he didn't like being second-guessed over and over about that.
He's also smartly insistent on giving his older stars days off, despite the pressure to win and the way the Yanks' offense habitually underperforms.
And the reason that the Yanks are still in this AL East race, despite their ups and downs, is because the one bit of luck they have had: The rest of the division has played almost as underwhelmingly as they have, or worse.