Conviction, not cash, won title

Girardi's decisions were instrumental in Yankees' victory

The Yankees can celebrate their championship thanks to some savvy moves made by their manager.
The Yankees can celebrate their championship thanks to some savvy moves made by their manager. (David J. Phillip/associated Press)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 6, 2009

NEW YORK -- The cynical view, of course, is that the New York Yankees bought the World Series. True, payroll size is always a big factor, but teams from Baltimore to Detroit to Queens to the north side of Chicago (not to mention the Bronx itself) have discovered at one point or another in the past decade that you simply can't spend your way to a championship -- you can only spend your way to high expectations. Meeting them is another matter entirely.

The better way to think of the Yankees' 2009 World Series title, clinched Wednesday night with a 7-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Yankee Stadium, is in human, not economic, terms: Their championship was not won by money. It was won by conviction.

Yes, it required huge revenues for the Yankees to go out and sign free agents CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira over the winter. But it required conviction to shell out nearly half a billion dollars to do so.

"We've had hefty payrolls in the past," Hal Steinbrenner, the Boss's son and the Yankees' managing general partner, said late Wednesday night. "Having the highest payroll in the majors doesn't guarantee you're going to win. We're proud we took the money we made last year and put it back [into the team]."

Conviction, in fact, was a thread that ran throughout the Yankees' entire postseason run.

It took conviction for Manager Joe Girardi and his staff to settle on the unprecedented path of using just a three-man rotation for the duration of the playoffs -- no team during the wild-card era (1995-present) had ever won a World Series while using only three starters. The hyper-aggressive move, which the Yankees stuck to even after opening a 3-1 lead in the series, left Girardi open to criticism had it failed.

"We base our decisions on a lot of preparation, a lot of discussion," Girardi said. "We don't do anything where we just pull something off the wall with the intent of it working. The one thing about baseball, and in life [is that] every decision is not going to go according to plan, and you have to deal with it and you have to answer for it."

Likewise, when the idea was presented to the three Yankees starters -- Sabathia, Burnett and Andy Pettitte -- it took conviction to agree to the strategy, which would take all of them out of the routines they had spent many years streamlining, and would force them to pitch on the sport's biggest stage at less-than-optimum strength.

"We made a commitment to it," Pettitte said. "We talked to each other about it. We realized we might have to come back on short rest, but we felt we'd be able to do it."

It took conviction for the Yankees to decide, before the World Series began, that Ryan Howard, the Phillies' slugger, would never be allowed to face a right-handed pitcher (other than closer Mariano Rivera) with the game on the line -- and it took conviction to stick to it.

Howard, who had an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of 1.086 against right-handed pitchers this season but only .653 against lefties, was allowed by the Colorado Rockies to bat against right-handers in 76 percent of his plate appearances in the Division Series, while the Los Angeles Dodgers fed right-handers to him in 48 percent of his plate appearances in the NLCS.

However, the Yankees -- blessed with the proper personnel, but also the proper conviction -- allowed Howard only seven plate appearances out of 25 total (or 28 percent) against right-handers.

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