It's fitting that the Yankees, after weeks of acting like there was nothing to play for despite not actually having a playoff spot wrapped up, would finally get the win they needed when Red Sox manager Terry Francona did the same thing.
Francona opted to use Hideki Okajima instead of Daniel Bard in the tenth inning on Sunday night and paid for the choice when the Yankees loaded the bases and Okajima walked Juan Miranda to bring in the winning run. The 4-3 win avoided a sweep and offered some stress relief for a fan base that was starting to feel like an extended replay of 2004 was underway. The win didn't officially affirm the Yankees as a playoff participant, but with a magic number of one with six games to play it is okay to actually start acting this way.
That should be easy for Joe Girardi. In a string of decision making that would almost certainly have resulted in his departure from the dugout if things played out differently, Girardi has spent the last three weeks acting like September in the Bronx was the same thing as March in Tampa. That would be strange enough, but the fact that he tried to sell people on the idea that he would have managed the same exact way under any circumstances made it all the more bewildering.
We get that being healthy for the playoffs is vital. It's just that getting to the playoffs is even more important. Secure that and then send the starters to the Bahamas for a long weekend on the beach and at the tables, but secure it first. The players shouldn't be absolved of their responsibility as they haven't done much to help Girardi of late, but it felt like Girardi painted himself into a corner and failed to figure out a way to get himself out without damaging his reputation.
He snapped out of it Sunday, choosing to start Phil Hughes instead of skipping him and staying devoted to an innings limit that would be broken in the postseason anyway. That alone tells you that Girardi -- or someone higher up the food chain -- had some understanding that these weren't just normal games, but if you needed more evidence then you just needed to see Mariano Rivera on the mound in the eighth inning.
He got out of that jam, but the Sox would steal four bases and score two runs in the ninth to give the game to Jonathan Papelbon. You know by now that the Yankees rallied back, but we mention it simply because watching Papelbon blow saves is one of the great joys of our current baseball landscape, and wound up with the much-needed victory.
Now we can turn our attention to worrying about the way the Yankees have played of late, with Rivera at the top of the list. Three blown saves in his last six outings make this as bad a month as he's had since October 2004 and, well, the less said about that the better. The rotation is still full of question marks and the lineup has ran hot and cold for most of the season.
All of that could go away in an October minute or it could be a harbinger of a quick exit to come, but, thanks to the change of thinking, we'll get a chance to find out about all of that soon enough.