MLB

The rap on Girardi: Too smart for his own good?

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NEW YORK (AP)

If the knock against Yankees manager Joe Girardi is that he's been overmanaging his way through his first postseason, well, let's put it this way: At least he's got plenty of help. Girardi has enough computer programs to make stat geeks envious and the best scouting department money can buy. A binder chock-full with matchups and color-coded charts is never more than an arm's reach away. The temptation to do something with all that information is strong, but never stronger than when your team just dropped the World Series opener at home. So, naturally, Girardi took the bait - but not in the way everybody expected. That's why New York heads to Philadelphia tied at a game apiece - because of their manager's hunches for once, rather than in spite of them. Girardi was asked about two of those moves late Thursday night, not long after the Yankees beat Philadelphia 3-1. The first had to do with Derek Jeter's decision to bunt with two strikes, runners on first and second and nobody out. He fouled out, killing a potential rally. Turns out Girardi had nothing to do with it, but he was not about to throw the guy who did under the bus. "It was on his own," Girardi said, but added a moment later, "Derek Jeter is a very smart baseball man. If he feels he can do the job in that situation, I'm not going to bark at him." The second was calling for the hit-and-run earlier that same inning, after Jerry Hairston Jr. - another hunch; more on that later - led off with a single from tiring Philly starter Pedro Martinez. Girardi set Hairston in motion with plenty of time to reach third when Melky Cabrera singled behind him. Then he sent Jorge Posada in to pinch-hit for Jose Molina - more on that in a moment, too - and a third consecutive single produced New York's third run. But all Girardi would say about that move was, "I don't really like to talk too much about strategy." Not in public, anyway, since besides the 25 guys and the handful of coaches in his locker room, he's not likely to find a sympathetic audience. "People are going to say something. I don't pay attention to that and I know Joe," closer Mariano Rivera said, "he doesn't pay attention to it." Starting Hairston in right field in place of struggling Nick Swisher was something the second-guessers were screaming for since Swisher struck out with the bases loaded in Game 5 of the ALCS, capping an 0-for-5 night and an 0-for-11 streak that began in Game 2. Girardi took the heat as Swisher continued to struggle in the ALCS clincher and the loss in Game 1 of the series. The first indication Girardi had changed his mind came when he announced the Game 2 lineups. "Not every move you're going to make as a manager is going to work," Hairston said. "You play percentages and that's what he does. I mean he does have some instincts as well, but he ... takes his time and really judges the situation thoroughly. As a player, that's all you can ask for." Speaking of stubborn, Girardi also decided to let Game 2 starter A.J. Burnett continue using Molina, the backup who's become his personal catcher. Girardi took plenty of heat previously for that decision, too, including some from the even-tempered Posada. The switch-hitting Posada is much better offensively, not to mention one of the few remaining cornerstones from the Yankees dynasty of the previous decade. But Molina, who is the better defensive catcher of the two, turned out to be the right rock on this night. He called a nearly flawless game. Burnett's biggest asset is his ability to set up hitters with first-pitch strikes, and he accomplished that with 20 of the 26 he faced. The bonus was that Molina picked Jayson Werth off first base in the fourth inning with a snap throw just behind the ear of Phils batter Raul Ibanez that Posada couldn't make without the aid of a slingshot. "I thought that was real, real important," Girardi said. A manager's job comes down to making decisions and recognizing the right time to make them. Old-school skippers like the Phillies' Charlie Manuel understand that as sophisticated as the study of the game has become, it's still about people hitting, pitching and catching the ball. The smart ones understand the best thing to do in almost every situation is roll out your best and hope they play well. New-school guys like Girardi need tighter control, or at least the feeling that whatever edge they can find, even out at the margin, can make a difference. This time, though, a few seat-of-the-pants impulses served him better than crunching numbers. And if that cuts into Girardi's reputation of being too smart for his own good, winning will make it an easy rap to live with. --- Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at) ap.org

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