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Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Updated: September 22, 10:34 AM ET
Joe Girardi deserves a lot of credit

By Rob Parker
ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi likely won't win American League Manager of the Year.

In fact, he'll be lucky to finish in the top three in the voting.

Sadly, most baseball writers/voters just can't look past the Yankees' $200 million payroll to actually see what he's done.

Plus, there's an anti-New York vote that swirls around Baseball America whether folks want to admit it or not.

But if there was ever a manager who deserves some credit for getting his team into the postseason this year -- the Yankees clinched the AL East title with a doubleheader sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday -- it's Girardi.

Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher
The Yankees celebrated their 17th AL East title after a 4-2 Game 2 win over the Rays.

No one wants to remember spring training when all the talk was about the Boston Red Sox. Some, or so it seemed, wanted to call off the season and hand the Sox the division title, without ever playing a game.

The Yankees, who seemingly did nothing in the offseason to improve themselves, were flying under the radar.

There were some baseball experts, shockingly, who predicted the Yankees wouldn't make the playoffs.

That's right. It was the Red Sox winning the division and the Rays grabbing the wild-card spot out of the AL East.

But with a week to go in the regular season, not only are the Yankees going to the postseason for the third straight year under Girardi, they are on the verge of securing the best record in the league.

And by no means was it a walk in the park. Girardi had to work at it, solve problems and work through dilemmas. He had to guide this team through a slew of injuries as well.

Girardi lost Phil Hughes, Rafael Soriano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez to the disabled list at different points in the season. And lost Joba Chamberlain for the year with an elbow injury.

The loss of Hughes along the way would have derailed most clubs' postseason dreams. Not Girardi's Yankees.

Plus, A-Rod (.281 with 16 HRs and 60 RBI) has struggled through his worst season as a pro.

Girardi's ability to hold the team together didn't go unnoticed by Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

"Joe and his staff have done a great job," Cashman said before Game 2 at Yankee Stadium. "Obviously, we have a lot of talent, we have a lot of depth and it showed this year because it was needed.

"And we've had a lot of guys also step up. Some guys we knew had that in them, other guys came in and surprised us."

Girardi also was impressive with the way he handled delicate situations with his stars, namely Jeter and Jorge Posada.

Many wanted Girardi to give up on Jeter when he was struggling during the first two months of the season. Sports-talk radio was screaming for Girardi to drop Jeter from leadoff to ninth in the batting order.

Girardi, to his credit, never wavered on his future Hall of Fame shortstop. And Jeter delivered for his skipper. Since coming back from the disabled list July 4, he's hitting .336 (90-for-268).

Girardi also handled the Posada situation properly. He benched the former All-Star catcher when it was necessary. And it took guts to do it to a player who has meant so much to this franchise. But Girardi had to do what was best for the team, not play favorites.

He also had to work a lot of different players into the lineup in order to fill in for the players that went down, and keep his older team fresh in the process. For sure, Girardi earned his pay this season.

"Joe has done an incredible job and doesn't get enough credit," said Rodriguez amid the Yankees' celebrations. "To me, he is the manager of the year. He's been terrific."

Best of all, Girardi doesn't believe his job is over by just making the playoffs.

"It's the first step of three that you want, to me, to accomplish in the regular season," Girardi said. "First one is to get in.

"The second one is to win your division. And the third one is to have home-field advantage throughout. It's the first step, and you've got a shot now."

Thanks to Girardi, whether others want to acknowledge it or not.