By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
Only Joe Girardi, Jaime Garcia, and a handful of other Yankees within earshot of the dugout tete-a-tete Wednesday knew the exact words the manager used in explaining why he removed the veteran left-hander one out before he would qualify for his first Yankee win.
Chances are, it wasn’t, “I’m sorry.”
Whatever it was, however, the folks who write the paychecks should take note. With Girardi’s contract expiring at year’s end, Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman need to re-sign him, if only to keep a guy who believes that September success trumps individual stats by a lot.
Put it this way. Imagine if Terry Collins had told Matt Harvey to shut up and grab some pine after the eighth inning of Game 5 of the World Series Game in 2015. The Mets might not have won the whole thing, especially the way the Royals were playing. But at least the journey might have continued for another game or two, and who knows what could have happened.
What did happen is that Harvey talked — yelled, actually — his way back in, the wheels fell off, and the train stopped dead.
Collins hesitated. And as the saying goes, “He who hesitates is lost.”
Girardi isn’t lost. And he’s not hesitating. He’s riveted on a goal which, at this point, ranges between a wild card spot and a division championship. If that means ticking off a starter, or pulling Dellin Betances with two on and two out in the eighth to get his team to the finish line, then so be it.
And don’t think Girardi didn’t know how Betances felt about that. The reliever’s body language spoke amply about his displeasure.
Girardi didn’t care. Wins, not clubhouse popularity, sit at the top of his list. Right or wrong, he’s at least going to go for it. And at this point in the season, it’s best to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission, though one wonders if he’d even consider that he had done something that called for anyone’s absolution.
He’s never been a charmer, anyway. And, sure, some of his moves have caused a lot of backlash from the masses. Some have gone so far to say that Girardi is the worst manager the Yanks have ever had, a rather harsh assessment considering the names of Stump Merrill (120-155 record) and Bucky Dent (36-53) grace the managerial roster.
But he’s proving this month that he is the ideal person to lead the young Yankees for the next couple of years.
In addition to his creativity in using his bullpen — the Yanks’ strongest weapon — he has handled Aaron Judge patiently through his second-half struggles. He has moved him up and down the lineup. He judiciously gave him a day off during his 14-game home run drought.
Judge’s struggles haven’t ended. He’s still flailing at too many pitches. But at least the home run stroke has started to return.
He had no hesitation of pulling Aroldis Chapman from his closer role, either. Of course, it helped that he had two able options in Betances and David Robertson to fill in while the Cuban fire-baller figured himself out. The point is, Girardi was more tied to winning games than he was to defined roles.
The result is that Chapman is back to saving games again. He may not look as invincible as he once did, but he still managed to throw two perfect ninths and get two saves in his last three games, the last coming in Wednesday’s four-out appearance.
Girardi has his convictions, all developed through copious preparation. And the fact that his moves have enabled his team to move to within three games of the Red Sox is a testament to that.
Whether he wins the division or not, Girardi is the guy to lead this team into the future. Even if he does tick off a player or two.
He’s done plenty to warrant a new deal.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino