Wednesday night it paid off to have a former National League Manager of the Year at the helm of the New York Yankees. Girardi, who won the award in 2006 with the Florida Marlins, had to show off some of that National League ingenuity in game two of the interleague matchup with the Colorado Rockies.
Before the game even started, Girardi raised some eyebrows with his decision to bat David Phelps eighth ahead of Austin Romine in the lineup. He explained it as wanting to separate the Yankees lefties in a lineup full of them as well as hoping to get Robinson Cano, the undisputed offensive leader of this injury depleted lineup, as many at bats as possible. It all makes sense but still it's fair to wonder what that decision did for the young backup catcher's confidence. Historically, the lower you are in the lineup, the less potent your bat and there was Romine batting ninth below a pitcher who had never taken an at bat at the major league level. It's enough to mess with a rookie's psyche.
In the end, it was all a wash from the offensive perspective as Phelps went 0 for 2 with two strikeouts while Romine went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and neither was around for the end of the game. Ben Francisco pinch hit for Phelps with the go ahead run on third but couldn't get the job done and Chris Stewart entered the game for defensive purposes in the bottom of the ninth.
Girardi, however, wasn't done with his unconventional moves. In the top of the ninth the Yankees loaded the bases with Chris Nelson's spot due up. He turned and walked back into the dugout and out popped Travis Hafner. Yankees Universe frowned momentarily, wondering who would play third base? Surely not Hafner, who the Yankees swathe in bubble wrap in between his at bats. Could Nunez be healthier than previously thought? Perhaps Chris Stewart had some infield experience? The decision looked even more questionable after Hafner struck out and Brennan Boesch pinch hit in David Robertson's spot, beating out an infield single to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead.
Off to the bottom of the ninth inning and there was less uncertainty about who would take the mound, Mariano Rivera of course, than there was about who would be manning third base.
It turned out to be Vernon Wells, who had collected three of the Yankees total six hits on the night, and who had scored the go ahead run, and who would now man the hot corner. In fact, changes abounded in the Yankees defensive alignment leaving Bob Lorenz, the YES play-by-play man for last night's game, to announce the positioning as if it was an early Spring Training game.
The first out was a flyout to Brett Gardner, the only outfielder to remain in his position for the entire game. The second out was, of course a ground out to third base. Wells fielded it cleanly and unleashed a slightly underhanded but accurate throw to first base. After the final out, another flyout to Gardner, the game was secure. Test passed.
During his postgame interview, Girardi kiddingly chastised Sweeny Murti from WFAN, when Murti asked if he thought the Yankees had "stolen" a game with the unconventional line-up. Girardi explained that he had, indeed, had a plan the entire time and he seemed to enjoy explaining his thinking.
Gone are the "set it and forget it" days of the New York Yankees lineup, at least for a few more months and perhaps for the entire season. It's an opportunity for the Yankees manager to show off his managerial skills and, for one night at least, Girardi was impressive.