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The Yankees’ best moments under Joe Girardi

Let's take a look back at some of the team's high points during Joe Girardi’s tenure as manager.

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi before Game Three of the 2017 ALCS against the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium.
New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi before Game Three of the 2017 ALCS against the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Girardi was hired to manage the Yankees following the 2007 season. His predecessor, Joe Torre, had guided the team to 12 straight playoff appearances, 10 American League East titles, six pennants, and four World Series championships. But the dynasty had stalled with the storied franchise's three straight Division Series losses. Ownership felt that a change was needed to get New York it's 27th championship, and Girardi was their choice to get it done.

During his 10-year run as manager, the Yankees won more games than any other team in baseball. They were 910-710, good for a .562 winning percentage. They averaged an even 91 wins per year.

New York also won a total of 28 playoff games, which was tops in the American League. The Giants, en route to three titles, won 36. The Cardinals won 32, while the Dodgers had 28 wins at the start of this year's World Series. The rest of the AL East won 46 playoff games combined. Boston won 18, Tampa Bay won 12, Toronto won 10, and Baltimore won 6.

Under Girardi, the Yankees were clearly the cream of the division and the league. Now that he and the franchise have gone their separate ways, let's take a look at some of the team's high points during Girardi's decade-long tenure as Yankees' skipper.

1. The 2009 World Series championship

After winning an MLB-best 103 games during the regular season, the Yankees swept the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS. Then they met the pesky Angels, who had eliminated them during the ALDS in 2002 and 2005. They finally got revenge against the AL West champs, dispatching them in a six-game LCS to reach the World Series for the 40th time. There, they foiled a Philadelphia team looking to repeat, beating the Phillies four games to two to clinch the franchise's 27th World Series title.

Lacking a reliable fourth starter, Girardi opted to use a three-man rotation throughout the postseason. Although the move was widely ridiculed by the media, it turned out to be his most brilliant. It was the defining decision of his most successful year as Yankees manager. Andy Pettitte went 4-0, CC Sabathia went 3-1, and A.J. Burnett was 1-1.

Pettitte won the clinching game of all three playoff rounds, becoming the first player to do so. He also set a new career postseason record for wins. He extended that record to 19 in 2010, which still stands today.

Hideki Matsui hit three homers, scored three times, knocked in eight, and had a 2.027 OPS in the World Series to take home MVP honors. He became the first Japanese-born player and first full-time designated hitter to do so. It was Godzilla's final season in pinstripes, and the beloved Yankee was able to go out on top.

New arrivals Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett, Nick Swisher, and Sabathia all won their first and only championships. The Core Four won their fifth and final one together. Although they tried mightily to win one more in subsequent years, 2009 was the last hurrah for that legendary dynasty.

2. Winning Game 5 of the 2017 ALCS

They weren't even supposed to be here. It was a rebuilding year. They were lucky to survive the Wild Card Game. There's just no way they could advance further than the Cy Young laden Red Sox. They were to be swept by the record-setting Cleveland team destined for World Series comeuppance against the Cubs. They will surely meet the Houston broom after falling into an 0-2 hole versus the Astros.

You've heard and read all the bilge. Yet, here we are, reflecting on a wonderful season where the Yankees came within one measly win of their 41st World Series.

Sure, there were many great triumphs along the way that could have made this list. What about the comeback against the Twins after Luis Severino gave up three runs and only recorded one out? How about Didi and the rest of the Bombers destroying Minnesota pitching? How about the Yankees bullpen!

What about the clutchest of clutch pitching performances by Masahiro Tanaka with the Yankees facing elimination against the Indians in Game 3? How about Greg Bird scoring the game's only run by homering off of Andrew Miller!

There was Game 5 in Cleveland to complete the improbable series win, keyed by Didi, CC, and the bullpen. There was the comeback in ALCS Game 4 after being down 4-0 in the sixth, keyed by Judge, Sanchez, and the bullpen.

I can go back even further than that. Do you remember that Friday night game against Baltimore, when the Yankees came back to win after being down 9-1 late? What about that five-game stretch in June when they outscored the Red Sox and Orioles 55-9!

Ah, there were so many great moments of the surprising and fun 2017 campaign. But we're here to celebrate Joe Girardi's tenure as manager. ALCS Game 5 was the final win of his career in pinstripes. This seventh victory of the postseason also marked the highest total of his reign, other than the championship year. And boy was it a dandy.

Tanaka threw his second seven-inning shutout of this postseason. Tommy Kahnle locked down the win. Sanchez, Bird, Gregorius, and Judge all came through with huge RBIs. The Yankees finally beat Dallas Keuchel.

3. The rookie campaign of Gary Sanchez

Brian McCann was a high-priced free agent signing. He was a seven-time All-Star, six-time Silver Slugger, and finished 24th in the AL MVP Award voting the previous year. Yet, Joe Girardi benched him and named Gary Sanchez the Yankees' starting catcher.

The 21-year-old had two big league plate appearances prior to being called up in August, 2016. Girardi put his trust in Sanchez, and we were all rewarded. Big time.

Sanchez hit 20 homers in 54 games. He drove in 42 runs, scored 34 times, and slashed .299/.376/.657. It was the greatest abbreviated rookie campaign in baseball history. He even surpassed Hall of Famer Willie McCovey's 1959 Rookie of the Year Award winning production, long considered to be the gold standard for second-half call-ups. Sanchez finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting to Michael Fulmer, who started 26 games for Detroit.

Would Gary Sanchez turn out to be a flash in the pan? Not even close. This season, Sanchez made the All-Star Game in his first year on the ballot. He went on to break the franchise record for home runs by a catcher with 33. Posada and Yogi Berra had been tied with 30. The young phenom has already found himself in lofty company, and he's only getting started.

4. The rookie campaign of Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge was a late-season call-up in 2016. He wowed the crowd at Yankee Stadium by hitting a towering home run in his first major league at-bat. Naturally, the critics soon dismissed him as a near-miss when he began striking out a lot. But not Joe Girardi.

The Yankees manager held a competition between Judge and Aaron Hicks during spring training to determine the starting right fielder. Girardi heard it from both sides, with some saying Judge would never amount to anything, while an equally loud chorus said the same about Hicks. But Girardi somehow got lightning to strike twice in the same place.

Judge won the starting nod in right field, while Hicks soon took over in center to replace the injured Ellsbury. By the time Hicks got injured around mid-season, he was second in the league in OPS behind Judge.

All Rise turned in a rookie campaign for the ages. He broke Mark McGwire's 30-year-old rookie home record by swatting 52. In doing so, Judge became only the fifth Yankee ever to hit 50 or more homers in a season. Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Alex Rodriguez are the only others to accomplish the feat.

Number ninety-nine was the leading All-Star vote-getter in the American League, and second overall behind Bryce Harper. The right fielder became the third Yankees position player to be selected to start the All-Star Game in his rookie season, following legends Joe DiMaggio and Hideki Matsui.

The young superstar broke Ted Williams' rookie walk record. Judge was at or near the top in all three Triple Crown categories for the first half of the season. He is certain to win the Rookie of the Year Award, likely unanimously. He is also a serious candidate to win the MVP Award, although he faces serious competition from Jose Altuve and Mike Trout. Regardless of the final vote outcome, Judge will be a top-three finisher at the very least.

If a vote were held, Judge would probably be the team's postseason MVP. He led the Yankees with four home runs and eleven runs batted in. Through the LCS, only Houston's Jose Altuve hit more bombs (5), and only the Dodger's Justin Turner drove home more runs (12). Judge also scored nine times, which was second only to Altuve's ten.

Judge was clutch, knocking in runs in five of the Yankees' seven postseason wins. His two-run shot in the Wild Card Game gave the Yankees a 7-4 lead. His two-run double off Trevor Bauer in Game 4 of the ALDS gave the Yankees a 4-0 lead. It turned out to be the game winner, as New York went on to a 7-3 victory.

He had key hits in each of New York's three ALCS wins as well. His three-run dinger in Game 3 gave the Yankees a commanding 8-0 lead. His dramatic two-run double to tie the score in Game 4 was one of the most important hits of the year. Finally, Judge's double in Game 5 gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead and provided Tanaka with some breathing room.

As he did all year, Judge impressed with his defense as well. His running, leaping catch to rob Yuli Gurriel of a home run to lead off the second inning of ALCS Game 7 was one of the best plays you'll ever see. Had the Yankees gone on to win that game by a run, it's a play that everyone would be talking about and would likely be regarded as the series saver.

5. The arrival of Greg Bird

When Mark Teixeira suffered a season-ending injury during the 2015 playoff push, Joe Girardi called upon Greg Bird to replace him. Another manager might have tried to shoe-horn a veteran into first, but Girardi put his faith in a 22-year-old with no major league experience. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of Girardi's managerial career.

Bird played in 46 games, hitting 11 homers, scoring 26 times, and driving in 31. He slashed .261/.343/.529 in 178 plate appearances and played exceptional defense. The Yankees would not have won the Wild Card that year if it were not for Bird's contributions at the plate and in the field.

Following injuries that caused him to miss considerable time, Bird returned to the team in September. He hadn't seen much playing time and Chase Headley was entrenched at first. Despite this, Girardi not only added Bird to the postseason roster, but had him start every game. Once again, Bird came through.

He led the team with a .938 OPS in the playoffs. He hit three homers and drove in six runs. He turned in a great overall performance by any measure, but it was the timing of his hits that really makes him stand out. Bird had the game winning RBI in three of the Yankees seven postseason wins.

His solo home run off Andrew Miller in Game 3 of the ALDS was easily one of the biggest hits of the entire season. It was the only run of the game, with the Yankees literally nine outs and one run away from elimination. It was the turning point of the series, which the Bombers came back to win.

Bird came up clutch again in Game Five of the LCS. With the series tied at two games apiece, and Tanaka once again engaged in a potential pitching duel, Bird's RBI single in the second to break through against Dallas Keuchel gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead. It turned out to be the game winner, as Tanaka and the bullpen shut out Houston.

At the moment, the crowning achievement of Joe Girardi's managerial tenure is the 2009 World Series title. But it won't be for long. The young stars that got their starts under his tutelage have very big futures ahead of them. He will be long remembered for his hand in their development.

Joe Girardi literally presided over the ending of one dynasty and the beginning of a new one. It's just too bad that he won't be around to share in the rewards as it takes flight.

What do you think were the Yankees’ best moments under Joe Girardi? Let us know in the comments section below.