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MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Girardi making all the right moves off bench

Yankees skipper not afraid of quick hook and trusting young bullpen

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CHICAGO -- How smart is Derek Jeter? And how steely efficient of a manager is Joe Girardi?

The Wrigley Field crowd was on its feet and cheering loudly after Jeter sent a hard line drive to right fielder Nate Schierholtz in the eighth inning. Fans thought that the Yankee icon had made his last trip to the plate ever on this side of Chicago and wanted him to come out of the dugout for a curtain call.

It was a great little moment on a sunny day except for one thing: There was no way that Jeter was going to acknowledge the crowd, not with the Yankees losing and him making an out when he represented the tying run. The last thing he was going to do was make Jacoby Ellsbury back out of the batter's box to wait for him to take a bow.

Ellsbury's been stuck in a slump and Jeter wasn't going to do anything to make his work tougher. Besides, the game wasn't over, and Jeter knew it. So too did Jeff Samardzija, the Cubs' ace who is somehow winless and leading the Major Leagues in ERA.

As Samardzija watched nervously from the Cubs' dugout, the Yankees struck for two runs in the top of the ninth and suddenly Jeter was in line for another at-bat before moving over to U.S. Cellular Field, where he and his teammates will face the White Sox's Chris Sale on Thursday night.

It turned out that Jeter would get three more at-bats before the Yankees finished off the Cubs, 4-2, in the 13th inning. It was 4 hours, 39 minutes of heavy lifting for the guys in the visiting dugout, who started neophyte Chase Whitley against Samardzija, and nobody had more of a right to be worn out afterward than Girardi.

This was a game that the Yankees had only a little chance of winning, but in the end, they needed only a little chance. They won by keeping pressure on the Cubs and getting all the big outs they needed from their bullpen, which worked 8 2/3 innings.

"You have opportunities," Girardi said. "If you just cash in on a few opportunities a lot of times you'll win the game."

Girardi ran through his bench and his bullpen, moving parts around constantly from the seventh inning on. He ordered a bunt by a relief pitcher going to the plate for the first time in the Major Leagues and at one point ordered David Phelps, who will start Thursday against the White Sox, to lace up his spikes in case he was needed in relief.

This was an American League manager handling National League rules so well he looked like a young Sparky Anderson -- or maybe the 41-year-old Girardi, when he won an NL Manager of the Year award with the Marlins.

Like so many other teams, the Yankees have been swamped with injuries. But they started out more vulnerable than most, thanks to Robinson Cano's departure and Alex Rodriguez's suspension. Whitley is one of five pitchers who have made their Major League debut for the Yankees, who don't operate with the margin of error they once did, with their personnel no longer at a higher level than their competition in the AL East.

Yet Girardi has them three games above .500 despite having been outscored by 11 runs overall.

He's done it with decisions like he made in the fifth inning. Whitley had thrown just 71 pitches and trailed only 1-0, but the Cubs had a man on third and one out with Anthony Rizzo coming to the plate.

Girardi brought in his strikeout machine, Dellin Betances (45 of his 78 outs this year have been on strikeouts), even though he normally fits as a bridge to closer David Robertson. And, on cue, Betances fanned Rizzo and retired Starlin Castro on a deep fly to center.

Afterward, Girardi said it was no knock on Whitley that he was pulled after 4 1/3 innings.

"You would like to [let him go longer], but it was a tight ballgame," he said. "Samardzija was throwing well. We weren't doing a lot and Betances was well rested. I just said I'm going to try to shut it down right now, and that's what we did."

So much for Girardi going by the binder. This was a Don Zimmer move, and because of it and some others -- including the one that led to the Preston Claiborne sacrifice in the 13th against Jose Veras, putting Brendan Ryan in position to score the go-ahead run on a wild pitch -- the Yankees avoided a two-game sweep.

Girardi flashed a sense of urgency in the game, but was also patient. He didn't use Robertson until he had a save for him to convert. That meant getting 3 1/3 scoreless innings from Matt Daley and Claiborne. And trusting pitching coach Larry Rothschild's belief that Claiborne would be able to handle the bat, which Girardi had never seen him do.

"I could have asked Tanaka to bunt or a starting pitcher to bunt, but I didn't really want to," Girardi said. "Then I'd have to go to Robby and if we don't score then you're really in a pickle."

Sometimes heavy lifting pays off. Ellsbury, who had been 1-for-27, even came through with a pair of singles in extra innings. The Yankees need him to start raking so they can play more games like they did in the old days and fewer of these, where they have to beat the odds.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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