In A Month Of Wild Assumptions, Girardi's Feeling Good About Yankees

NEW YORK

Joe Girardi sat there Sunday at Yankee Stadium, rubbing his head, considering Eduardo Nunez, considering Derek Jeter, considering Rafael Soriano's 40 saves after Mariano Rivera was lost. And then the Yankees manager, who doesn't smile enough, broke into a smile.

Sure, he was going to check on the Orioles-A's score from the West Coast.

"I'll check the football scores and the NASCAR race, too," Girardi said after his Yankees had injected their latest dose of small ball into a 6-4 victory that pushed the postseason hopes of the stumbling Tampa Bay Rays into the wild card ICU.

When Girardi got around to those scores, he would find the Giants had pulled out an incredible 41-34 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs. He would find, just as incredibly, the Patriots had lost to the Arizona Cardinals 20-18 on a missed two-point conversion, a holding penalty that negated a last-minute touchdown by Danny Woodhead and, ultimately, a missed 42-yard field goal by Steve Gostkowski that hooked left in the closing seconds.

For sporting know-it-alls and Chicken Littles alike, September is the most dangerous month. It is the month of assumption and supposition and panic. That is what makes September so delicious. No other month produces so many idiots among fans, statistical gurus and media.

On one hand, we have baseball intelligentsia armed with statistical data that proves certain teams will or will not choke in the heat of a pennant race. On the other hand, we have over-emotional — and usually over-served — football fanatics drawing absolutes based on the first or second game of the season. Often, they are made during the game. It's nuts. All you Patriots fans who are panicking because the Pats gagged to the lowly Cardinals in the home opener: Check back in December. We'll punch your ticket to the playoffs.

"Patience," Girardi said of the five-run third inning that made the difference on this day.

Patience in September? What the hell is that, Joe?

Remember when the Yankees were left for old and dying two weeks ago? Well, about 3:45 p.m. Sunday, the Giants were buried, too.

They were down double digits and about to drop to 0-2. And with games at Philly, at Dallas, at Frisco, at Atlanta, at Baltimore, against the NFC East, the schedule screamed the defending champions were already dead in Week 2. Whoops, maybe not. Boos chased Eli Manning into the locker room after throwing three first half interceptions. And then a hilarious thing happened. Eli threw for a career-high 510 yards. The G-Men won in the closing seconds.

Now the Giants aren't dead. They're miracle workers. Tune in next week. It's September.

Our own wacky sports state of split allegiances figures into this. At 4 p.m. there was so much screaming going on with the Giants and Patriots, nobody could hear the Yankees winning for the fifth time in seven games. It's fitting that our patron saint of the moment is Bobby Valentine. The Red Sox manager and professor of wackiness has shot himself in the foot so many times his mouth has been ruled an illegal firearm in six Connecticut counties.

Back in the winter when told about the Yankees' 5 percentage-point lead over the Red Sox in the Quinnipiac annual poll of Connecticut baseball fans, Valentine was asked if he thought being a home-state guy would help close that gap.

"It'll probably go 10 percent for the Yankees, right?" Valentine said.

Bobby V underestimated how much damage he could do.

It's also fitting that Valentine will face only playoff contenders his final 16 games before he gets fired. Nothing but Rays, Orioles and Yankees; yes, the Red Sox will go a long way in determining who makes the playoffs.

With 13 of their final 16 games against teams under .500, the schedule insists the Yankees are in the postseason. ESPN has statistical analysis that has the Yankees 94.1 percent sure of it. Of course, the Orioles are only one game behind the Yankees and the postseason could mean a one-game wild card game at Oakland.

After a lousy weekend in the Bronx, Rays manager Joe Maddon conceded, "The math isn't in our favor." And although the ESPN statistics list the Angels, 2 1/2 games out of the wild card, as only a 25.1 percent chance of making the playoffs, wow, Anaheim is a scary team.

Everybody seems to know what's going to happen. And September so often proves everybody wrong. Look at last September. Who had the Red Sox, with the best record in baseball through August, producing an all-time choke job? And who had the Braves going down the plumbing right along with them? Did Maddon forget about his miracle 2011 comeback?

Numbers are a guide. Numbers also do not tell you about players coming back from injury and young players rising up and making an impact. Even the aging, predictable Yankees could have a different look in October. The wisdom is if the Yanks don't hit the long ball, they lose, and when you go against the top starters in the postseason that doesn't bode well. Nunez changes the equation. Heck, Nick Swisher even had a successful sacrifice bunt Sunday.

"This is the loaded question," Girardi said when asked if the Yanks may play a little different down the stretch. "We have a bunch of guys who are used to hitting 3-4-5 in the lineup and haven't been asked to bunt in years. They're not stealing a lot of bases. Even Ichiro hasn't bunted a lot in his career. With the additions of some extra men, we can do more things and create runs."

Nunez made an error on a routine play Friday. He hit a home run Saturday. On Sunday, he didn't get a hit, but helped manufacture two runs with three steals. The guy can be electric. Girardi also said he has got to stop moving him around and focus Nunez on one position. That would be shortstop.

Derek Jeter has been playing DH. His bruised ankle is clearly hurting more than he's letting on. Girardi said, simply, "We're going to have to see how he feels on Tuesday [after a day off]. I don't think he's a shortstop right now."

So does Nunez have a big role when it matters most?

"Let us get to the playoffs and we can answer those questions," Girardi said.

Ivan Nova was extremely sharp Saturday in his return from a shoulder injury. Andy Pettitte returns Tuesday against Toronto from his broken foot. Girardi would be happy with 70 pitches and five innings. Yet right there, that's a 40 percent change in the starting rotation. And when Wallace Matthews of ESPN went for the reportorial long ball and asked if Hiroki Kuroda might start Game 1 of the playoffs instead of CC Sabathia, Girardi smiled a second time Sunday.

"Let me worry about Tuesday," he said.

There's still a lot of September left.

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