Joe Girardi and Yankees Relish A Hard-Fought AL East Crown, Await Wild Card Opponent

October 5, 2012 – 7:15 am by Steven Cuce

Last Sunday afternoon the New York Yankees were in Toronto and trailing the Blue Jays by four runs in the fifth inning. It was a big turning point for the Yankees season as the team was able to come back in the game and they never bat an eyelash this past week. The Yankees swept the Boston Red Sox and were able to not only clinch the American League East division title, but also secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs with the best record in the AL.

The dominoes sure did fall right for the Yankees this past week with the Texas Rangers losing their AL West Division lead to the Oakland Athletics and the Baltimore Orioles losing two of three to the Tampa Bay Rays, but the Bronx Bombers earned their stripes this season. New York never gave up its division lead when it appeared to falter on Sept. 3, and players like Raul Ibanez and Ichiro Suzuki stepped up in the clutch. We’ll see if the Yanks can get past the first round of the playoffs this postseason with a team that has grinded through injuries.

Joe Girardi joined WFAN in New York with Mike Francesa to discuss the New York Yankees working hard to earn the American League East Division title, the value of winning a division title this season now with two wild cards spots, how the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles finished up the end of the regular season, the Yankees never wavering down the stretch or losing the division lead and players like Raul Ibanez and Ichiro Suzuki changing the culture of the Yankees this season.

Congrats on the American League East Division title. This is one you really worked for huh?

“Yeah we really had to work for it and in the end your prediction came true — 94 wins would have gotten it done. I think you said that two weeks ago and you were right.”

This year I felt like winning the division was a valued accomplishment given how tough the American League is. Do you agree?

“I definitely agree and what we went through the last month of the season, I looked it was Sept. 3, we were a game up and we never relinquished the lead and that’s impressive what our guys were able to do and we had some guys in and out of the lineup. It seemed as we got healthier, we got better, and we had to win a lot of games in the end.”

Tell me about your thoughts on the Texas Rangers and how they finished down the stretch? How about the Orioles?

“Well I often wonder if the doubleheader on Sunday took a little bit out of the Texas Rangers before they went to Oakland. My biggest concern in that stretch we had when we got rained out, besides playing 15 days in a row, was the split doubleheader. How would our guys physically respond if time went on and I think that can take something out of you. The bottom line is if Texas wins [Friday] all of this is for not because now they are in a normal series just like everyone else. It’s really not a huge deal. If you lose the one-game crap shoot then that is a problem. Baltimore has played us extremely tough. We are 5-5 against Baltimore and 4-3 against the Rangers, so we have two really tough opponents.”

Do you feel very good about your ball club down the stretch here heading into the playoffs?

“I do, and now that I am able to look back upon it. We win 95 games and people talk about the lead that we had and you look at Texas and they had a 13-game lead, but a lot of it is about what other teams did, too. The other teams played really well in the second half, whether it was a Baltimore or whether it was an Oakland, and I am proud of our team with the way they held serve the whole time and never panicked. They just went out and played and they didn’t lose.”

Did guys like Raul Ibanez and Ichiro Suzuki change this Yankees team? Is this a different team this season?

“I think it’s a little different because of the way we were tested, too, the last month and I think personalities of guys always change with the excitement of a guy like Ichiro Suzuki coming over here and having not been in the playoffs in the last couple of years, and Raul Ibanez not being on the 2009 World Series team, but on Philadelphia and not getting his ring. I think it always changed. There’s a lot of guys on our club who don’t have rings and you see it in their eyes and the guys know what it takes and they are going after that ring as hard as possible. You saw what Derek Jeter did and the way he played down the stretch and playing with the bad ankle, but it’s good to have those guys.”

Listen to Joe Girardi on WFAN in New York here

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