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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Yankees lack healthy bodies, not heart

Justice: Yankees lack healthy bodies, not heart

Yankees lack healthy bodies, not heart
Joe Girardi's challenge will be to keep the noise out in the hallway. Also, don't let 'em see you sweat, Joe.

That last part may be the hardest thing about this whole deal. That's because the questions are about to get silly.

Girardi will be asked about his team's character and effort, about its leadership and poise. He will not like these questions. He will want to scream.

Girardi will want to point out that a clubhouse with Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte and Mark Teixeira lacks nothing in terms of professionalism and heart and all that stuff.

He will want to scream that anyone dumb enough to wonder what has happened to the New York Yankees needs only to look at the club they're putting on the field.

In a season when they've overcome so much, they've finally been slowed to a crawl by a roster decimated by injuries.

Yes, there are issues. More was expected of Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova. But they were never supposed to be the keys to this strange season.

Now there are screaming headlines in the tabloids, and screaming period on talk radio. Big deal. Let 'em scream. Girardi knew what he'd signed up for. Now he's about to earn his money.

One of Joe Torre's many gifts was his ability to take all the bullets, to ignore the clutter and to somehow keep his guys focused only on playing the games. When his Hall of Fame plaque is filled out, this may be his greatest accomplishment.

Torre succeeded in making life around the Yanks close to normal, which it had almost never been in the years before he arrived. He just was never bothered by the talk. Torre didn't think it important and communicated that message to anyone paying attention.

Girardi has perfected the art -- and believe me, it's an art -- of answering every question the same way. He never raises his voice. Girardi almost never seems irritated. He never really offers anything of substance, either.

Girardi simply sends a loud, clear message that the Yankees are going to do the things they always do. They're going to play hard. They're not going to worry about things they can't control.

In doing so, Girardi is sending a message to every player in his clubhouse, to every member of the organization, that it's all going to be fine.

He has seemed agitated a couple of times lately. This he must not do even if it's justified.

For fans or the media to throw around words like character and effort in a season like this one is ridiculous. The Yanks aren't losing because there's anything fundamentally wrong with the organization or the clubhouse.

All things considered, it's surprising they're still tied for first place after 135 games. If Girardi had known in Spring Training how it would all play out, he surely would have signed up for a share of first place on Sept. 5.

Take a deep breath and look at these Yankees without Mariano Rivera, Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, Teixeira, Michael Pineda and Brett Gardner for long stretches, or not at all.

Again, there are legitimate problems. Hughes and Nova could have bailed the Yanks out. Instead, New York has used 22 pitchers.

The Yankees were not poorly constructed. They are not poorly managed. They do not lack heart. They lack bodies.

Rodriguez and Teixeira have struggled at times this season. So has Curtis Granderson. It was never in the blueprint to give Andruw Jones 209 at-bats or to have Eric Chavez in the starting lineup at third for 53 games.

In 49 days, their lead in the American League East has gone from 10 games to zero. In that time, they've gone 20-25. They've averaged 4.4 runs per game. Their ERA is 4.00.

Neither number is particularly good. Neither number is awful, either. The Yankees were always going to rise and fall on Pettitte's ability to come back strong in September and shore up the rotation behind CC Sabathia. With Sabathia, Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda and Hughes pitching well down the stretch, the Yanks are good enough to make the playoffs.

It's important to remember that on the first day of Spring Training, a lot of people thought the Rays were the AL East's best team. They had all that young pitching and a manager, Joe Maddon, brilliant at getting the most out of his talent.

That's going to be true the rest of the way. The Rays have better pitching, and pitching frequently decides these things.

The Orioles? They're on such a magical ride that anything seems possible.

All the Yankees have is a history of persevering in tough times, of never being rattled. That's Jeter's legacy, and it has never been needed more than now.

But they can't do it without Rodriguez playing at a high level and without Pettitte on the mound.

They never expected to be playing with this roster, but that's the hand they've been dealt. Girardi must somehow get his guys to take a deep breath and worry only about themselves.

They're in more trouble than they ever expected to be, but nothing has been lost. The Yanks are about the bottom line. That's all that has ever mattered. That's what still to be decided.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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