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Girardi, Yanks stay resilient in tough division race

NEW YORK -- The enduring effect of the divisional race that has yet to be decided in the American League East, as far as Joe Girardi is concerned, can be seen when the Yankees manager runs his hand along his close-cropped haircut.

There are, Girardi confirms, a few more gray hairs this year than last. But as the Yanks continue to fight the Orioles in a battle that figures to go down to the wire, Girardi promises that the stress isn't anything he won't be able to handle.

"I sleep just fine, besides the nights that we get in at three or four in the morning," Girardi said. "This is it. I might be a little grayer, but that happens with age."

If you rewind the season to July 18, it certainly appeared as though the Yankees' sprint to the postseason would be more of a steady jog, with plenty of water station breaks sprinkled in along the way.

They built a 10-game advantage that, as the sun rose over New York on Thursday, stands at just a half-game over Baltimore. The Yanks always said they expected a tight AL East race, and now they've got one.

"I think we've been resilient," Girardi said. "We've been through a lot. We've had tough stretches where we've bounced back, we've had injuries where we've bounced back. We're starting to get healthy, which is a good thing. You know, it seems like when we get one guy back, another guy gets kind of nicked up. Right now, it's Jeet."

Jeet is, of course, Derek Jeter. And even now, with 14 games in 14 days remaining, Girardi made his early afternoon drive from Westchester, N.Y., to Yankee Stadium pondering how to best assemble a lineup around a limping, uncomplaining Jeter and an unavailable Mark Teixeira -- not ideal circumstances in a season where the Wild Card is the consolation prize no one wants.

But this is progress. The Yankees -- criticized this year by various voices for being too old, too slow, too reliant on the home run -- have spent somewhat less time in the trainer's office, gladly accepting Alex Rodriguez back into action and most recently seeing Andy Pettitte return from a fractured ankle.

"I've said it all along; these guys have found a way to get it done all year long through a lot of adversity, through a lot of injuries, through a lot of different things that we've been through," Girardi said. "I believe they're going to do it. That's who they are, and I believe in them."

And the Yankees believe in Girardi, who recently received votes of confidence for his job performance from -- among others -- managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, team president Randy Levine and general manager Brian Cashman.

"They have us in first place," Levine said this week. "That means they're doing a good job."

There is confidence inside the organization that they will still be there at the close of business on Oct. 3. Perhaps that's why, even as the O's refuse to fade, Girardi said the last thing he sees each night is most definitely not the smiling Orioles logo pecking at the Yanks' tail.

"I check scores," Girardi said. "For the most part, now that football has started, I don't fall asleep to a baseball game. I'll fall asleep to a football game. It's something different."

Other than the expected occasional encounters with umpires -- the best of which came in Detroit last month after Tim Welke first ruled a ball hit by the Tigers foul, then waved it fair -- Girardi has swallowed a couple of less-endearing episodes down the stretch run.

In Chicago, Girardi paused a postgame news conference to tell a boorish White Sox fan to "shut up" after being called a "bum," and in Baltimore, Girardi and a reporter traded angry words in the clubhouse after an unpleasant exchange.

Some raised red flags that the pennant race was getting to Girardi, sounding an alarm that he might be cracking under pressure. His players haven't seen it that way.

"He's consistent," center fielder Curtis Granderson said. "He never seems to get too emotional, one way or the other, whether we're playing really good or not so good. I think he realizes the big picture. He keeps confident and you can see it."

Granderson describes Girardi's relationship style with the players as "loose, relaxed, on a friendly but yet respectful basis," which figures to work well in a room filled with established veteran stars.

"He definitely demands a lot, but he trusts that we're out there doing the things that we need to so he doesn't have to worry about it," Granderson said.

Yankees fans might be quite familiar with the numbers-crunching, analytical image of Girardi getting his in-game strategy answers from a binder (actually, the Yanks' data has recently been upgraded to iPads), but Girardi's fiery, emotional side is not something he shies away from.

"I'm the same guy every day," Girardi said. "In that clubhouse, I'm the same guy. Am I going to get upset when calls don't go our way? Absolutely. I mean, that's just who I am. Sometimes people see me calm all the time, but there's a feistiness in me.

"And I've always had that; I had it as a player, I had it as a kid. I've always had that. And that's not going away. That's who I am, but I have that feisty side that comes out every once in a while. Is it going to come out again this year? Probably. But that's who I am."

New York Yankees, Joe Girardi