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Girardi plays cards he's dealt, and they come up aces

Anna, Solarte, Pineda and finally Phelps are the unlikely contributors in win over Sox @RichardJustice

NEW YORK -- Two weeks from now, the Yankees may not even remember this one. It'll just be seen as another brick in the wall. In its own way, though, Thursday's 4-1 victory over the Red Sox was special.

It was a game to be embraced and debated and marveled at. In that way, it was a game that reminds us why baseball seasons draw us in and then won't let go. It was a small game in the overall scheme of things, but to Yankees fans, it was a significant one, too.

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To review: Yanks manager Joe Girardi walked into his office Thursday having decided to give two of his late-inning relievers -- Adam Warren and Shawn Kelley -- a day off. He hoped to give a third guy, Matt Thornton, a break, too.

If Girardi had to lose a game to give his guys a break, then he was going to lose a game. As Tony La Russa sometimes reminded reporters, "When you're playing the first half of a season, you're also playing the second half."

In other words, managers must plan for the long haul, which means not wearing any single player down early. It also means keeping an entire roster fresh and not allowing any player to sit for too long. When teams win championships, they always look back and marvel at how many different players contributed to the cause.

OK, back to Girardi. There's his lineup, too. His blueprint was never to start Dean Anna at second base and Yangervis Solarte at third in the first game of a Red Sox-Yankees series.

Injuries have forced Girardi to scramble to piece things together almost each game. He doesn't sweat the small stuff.

"You seldom have a perfect roster," he said.

So here's how it played out. Girardi's starting pitcher, Michael Pineda, himself a huge question mark, pitched into the seventh inning to get his first victory in almost three years.

Forget those questions about pine tar on Pineda's right hand. Pitchers frequently use it in cool weather to better grip the ball. Is it against the rules? Yes. Is it a competitive advantage? Only in the thinnest sense.

The Red Sox saw the substance and didn't complain because they believe using pine tar isn't the same as, say, scuffing the ball or applying something to make the ball slippery and moving wildly at home plate.

Pineda succeeded because he cranked his velocity up to 96 mph in the early part of the game, and with a wicked slider, he had a nice combination.

Girardi got six innings out of Pineda. By then, he had a 4-1 lead thanks to Anna's first career home run.

Once Pineda departed, Girardi's challenge was to find those final nine outs. He got two of them from left-hander Cesar Cabral, just called up from the Minors, and then handed the ball to right-hander David Phelps, who began the day with a 9.82 ERA.

And on a night when Girardi's bullpen was stretched thin, on a night when his lineup had some different faces in it, everything clicked for the Yankees.

Phelps did his part, too, getting the final seven outs and notching his first career save. The Yankees and Red Sox play 18 more times during the regular season. The Yanks have 152 games remaining.

But for one Thursday night at the ballpark, it was about as sweet a victory as a team can have.

"You look at the course of a season, and it takes more than 25 guys," Girardi said. "You're going to have injuries, and you're going to have people that need to contribute probably more than anyone else expected if you're going to get to where you want to get. We've had some guys do that. You look at what Solarte has done. Look at what Phelpsy did tonight. You look at Dean Anna gets a big hit. It's kind of the way the game is."

That's exactly how Anna and Phelps looked at it.

"You've just got to jump on and ride the wave," Anna said. "You've got to be prepared and ready to go. If your number gets called, be ready."

Phelps took the ball knowing he had only a small safety net. If he could get those final seven outs and give his teammates in the 'pen a break, it would be significant.

"I figured as long as I was keeping guys off base, they were going to let me go," he said. "I wanted to eat up as much as I could."

The Yankees are hopeful of being whole again at some point. That means getting closer David Robertson and first baseman Mark Teixeira back from the disabled list and giving the club's original blueprint a chance to succeed.

With injuries impacting every American League East team, the race looks more jumbled by the day, which could make for a chaotic summer and a tremendously fun September.

Until then, it's a day at a time.

"Every night is a chance for someone to shine," Girardi said, "and it's not always the people you expect. To be successful as a team, it takes a lot of people."

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.

New York Yankees, Dean Anna, David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Yangervis Solarte