If winning cures all problems, then Joe Girardi has been absolved from any wrongdoing.
Before the Yankees’ skipper and his players celebrated a series-clinching 5-2 win over the Cleveland Indians in Game 5 of the ALDS at Progressive Field on Wednesday night, Girardi’s departure from the ballpark last Friday left an unpleasant aftertaste. With his team ahead 8-3 midway through Game 2, Girardi’s reluctance to challenge a hit-by-pitch call on Indians’ hitter Lonnie Chisenhall (which if reviewed, would’ve been ruled a foul-tip strikeout) prompted an epic rally from the defending AL champions, and arguably led to New York’s gut-wrenching extra-inning loss which placed them in a demoralizing 0-2 series hole.
Within 48 hours of Girardi’s most memorable managerial gaffe, there was a bounty on his head, and he came to terms with the widespread criticism. Of course in the moment, Girardi believed that he had made the right decision, but in retrospect, he realized that particular blunder was going to tarnish his reputation. And his future in The Bronx? Well, that was certainly uncertain.
But in the clubhouse following Girardi’s apology to the team, players didn’t express the same sentiments that a large chunk of disgruntled fans voiced. Instead, Todd Frazier spoke up, and rallied Girardi and the troops.
“New York’s tough. For [Girardi] to get booed in his own stadium, it kind of hit hard for us as players because we’ve got his back 100-percent,” Frazier told MLB Network. “Basically he said he put it on his shoulders, but I said, ‘Hey Joe, it’s on our shoulders, we should’ve won that game anyway.’
“This series was for him. At the end of the day, he had a lot of pressure on him. I know it hit him hard. He’s a great manager, which people still know that he is. He’s done a great job and it hit him hard. And I told him we’ve got your back 100-percent, don’t worry about nothing and onto the next one. So I’m proud of him as well.”
According to Girardi, Frazier’s words were the remedy.
“I met with the club before we went into [Game 3] and talked about just winning one game, and how all year long that I believed in them, from the day we left spring training, and I believe in them now,” Girardi said. “Todd Frazier was the first guy that said something. ‘Let’s go.’ And that did stick out in my mind. I’ll never forget that because I was about as low as I could be as a baseball coach. I mean, I’ve been carrying this burden for five or six days. It’s hard. If we lose on Sunday, it really hurts. It we lose on Monday, it really really hurts. And if we would’ve lost today, it probably would’ve hurt even worse. So what those guys did for me, I’ll never forget it.
“The difference between Friday and today is about as big as you can get. I don’t know at any point in my career that I felt worse than I did on Friday. As I’ve expressed many times, it’s the hurt for the other people that is so hard for me. These guys had my back and they fought, fought, and again, they beat a really really good team.”
Although the Yankees have shown resiliency all season long, perhaps that private moment behind closed doors was the catalyst to New York’s triumph as the underdog, knocking off a team that hadn’t lost three consecutive baseball games in nearly three months. For most championship-caliber clubs, strong chemistry leads to success, and the bond between the Yankees’ players and coaches is quite noticable now.
“It just shows everybody is united. Everybody has accountability,” shortstop Didi Gregorius said after hitting two decisive home runs off Indians’ ace Corey Kluber on Wednesday. “That’s the best thing. If you made a mistake, you admit it.
“All he told us [was], ‘Hey, let’s play one game at a time right now, and that’s all we can control right now. Whatever happened in the past happened in the past.”
“That happens. Everybody makes mistakes,” reliever David Robertson said. “I made a mistake to Jay Bruce [in Game 2]. I don’t fault Joe for that at any point. He’s a great manager, and he does anything he can to help us win a ballgame.”
Prior to Game 5, Girardi said there was a hole in his heart, and that his blunder led to a conversation with his family on whether he should return to baseball next season. That hole in seemingly now patched, and whether or not the Yankees elect to sign Girardi to a new contract this winter, he still has an opportunity to carry his group deeper into October, with a trip to the ALCS against the Houston Astros beginning on Friday.