Surrounded by cameras and reporters in the visiting dugout at Yankee Stadium, Joe Girardi seemed at ease. The Phillies manager took a friendly shot at his old battery-mate, YES announcer David Cone, smiled and joked.
Girardi, who won three World Series playing for the Yankees and another during his 10-season tenure as their manager beginning in 2008, was comfortable upon his return to The Bronx. He was managing in front of fans at his old home for the first time since he was let go following the 2017 season.
“Obviously, I was fortunate to be here. Ten years as a manager, a year as a bench coach, four years as a player,” Girardi said. “The people of New York were really great to me. The fans, the city, the organization always treated me really well. It’s nice to come back, it really is.”
Nevertheless, Girardi made it clear he wasn’t thinking about how he would be received. The notoriously intense and demanding manager had all his focus on the field.
Despite a roller-coaster season that has at times come close to careening off its tracks, his Phillies entered the two-game series very much in a playoff race. In the mediocre-at-best NL East, they trailed the Mets by just three games in the loss column.
They got Aaron Nola back from the COVID-19 list to start the opener Tuesday night. Third baseman Alec Bohm also was cleared to rejoin the team after his own absence due to the pandemic.
The Phillies started the second half by taking three of four games from the pesky Marlins, and before that won two of three at AL East-leading Boston. Girardi’s team entered Tuesday having won 10 of its last 14 games to climb two games above the .500 mark for the first time since mid-May.
“I do like the way we’ve played the last two weeks,” Girardi said.
Considering they have been besieged by injuries to the likes of J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Didi Gregorius and Jean Segura, and the bullpen has struggled mightily (4.59 ERA), the Phillies aren’t in a bad spot.
“I think we’re fortunate with the record we have that we’re only two-and-a-half games out,” Girardi said. “There’s a lot of baseball in front of us and we have to play well and we have to take care of our business. If we do that, we have a chance.”
It hasn’t been easy managing this year, Girardi admitted. The coronavirus and an abundance of injuries across the sport following the 60-game season in 2020 have forced teams to be creative. The Phillies have dealt with significant COVID-19 issues (in part because half of their roster has declined to get vaccinated, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported) and an ample amount of injuries. Those continued on Tuesday with the announcement starting pitcher Zach Eflin was headed to the injured list with right patellar tendinitis.
“You just can never let your guard down,” Girardi said. “Just when you think you’re getting your team on a roll, it seems like something pops up and you have to deal with it.”