Joe Girardi is the Yankees' real MVP

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.

"Yeah, well, we're all going through our issues, there's no doubt about it," Girardi agreed. "So as I've said, it's probably going to come down to the end, who handles the injuries the best. Obviously, we need to play better. I'm sure every club in our division says that at this point. We need to play better. We're right in the thick of it."

Like Girardi, this Yankees team at least has some fight.

Too bad for them, they also have too many hitters who are hitting like Girardi did once upon a time. Five of the eight everyday players he started Sunday were hitting .243 or lower. When he looks down his bench, four of the five players who sat last night are hitting .237 or below. (No wonder the Yanks took a chance by sending Carlos Beltran home in the sixth, only to see him get thrown out. "Just trying to get another run closer," Girardi shrugged.)

The Yanks are still missing three-fifths of their Opening Day starting rotation until CC Sabathia returns from his knee injury. And that's supposed to happen shortly after the All-Star Game. But general manager Brian Cashman better hurry up and make the trade(s) he keeps saying he wants to make. Because Ivan Nova isn't coming back, and Michael Pineda's injured shoulder just suffered another setback, and Girardi didn't sound all that convincing when asked directly if the Yanks are asking too much of young Whitley, David Phelps and Nuno, who has looked overmatched most of the time.

"No, I don't think so," Girardi said.

In his heart he knows that kind of starting rotation makes it hard enough to win. Whitley (3-2) was trying to prove that his first six games with the Yanks indicated the kind of pitcher he is rather than his last start, when he was rocked by Toronto. But then he went out and coughed up an RBI single to Stephen Drew, who began the night hitting .125. Then he served up a towering three-run homer to David Ortiz.

"He made some mistakes in the middle," Girardi said, "and they hit it."

And still, when Derek Jeter's refusal to give in against Red Sox starter John Lackey resulted in an 11-pitch at-bat that ended with Jeter slapping an RBI single to left that score Ichiro Suzuki in the third inning, the Yanks got some life. When Mark Teixeira and Beltran followed the very next inning with booming back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the fourth, making it a one-run game, Girardi had seen enough of Whitley when Whitley walked Jackie Bradley Jr., the Sox's No. 9 batter, to start the fifth.

Girardi decided to go get the last 15 outs of this game with his bullpen, the most trustworthy part of his team.

"Yep," Girardi said.

It just didn't work out. Shawn Kelley didn't retire any of the hitters he faced, walking two of them. "Don't know [why] -- he's had success off these guys," Girardi shrugged.

Girardi pulled every string he could.

But instead of managing to get something going, the Yanks were just going down.

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