NEW YORK -- Some people have monkeys on their backs. Others have targets. Yankees manager Joe Girardi had both, and he had himself to thank.
When Girardi was hired in the fall of 2007, he made a point of picking jersey No. 27 to symbolize the team's goal of winning a 27th World Series -- and the first since 2000.
With Wednesday's 7-3 win over the Phillies in Game 6 of the World Series, the Yankees gave Girardi his first title as a manager. They also may have given him a reason to consider a new jersey number for 2010.
"He's off the hook now, isn't he?" shortstop Derek Jeter said with a laugh.
Girardi's 2008 Yankees finished with 89 wins and missed the postseason, something the Yankees hadn't done since 1993. That didn't sit well with the Yankees, but they didn't sit still.
An aggressive winter of spending brought in CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. Those moves, along with other tweaks and retooling, helped give the manager a squad that would win 103 games in the regular season and go on to beat the Twins, Angels and Phillies en route to the championship.
"I thought he did a good job last year," Jeter said of Girardi. "I would assume it was probably easier for him this year just because it's the second time around. I'm sure it was a lot easier for him this year. I thought he did a good job last year. We just didn't play well."
"Well, this is what the Steinbrenner family has strived for year after year after year and has tried to deliver to the city of New York," Girardi said. "George Steinbrenner and his family are champions. To be able to deliver this to The Boss, the stadium that he created and the atmosphere he has created around here is very gratifying for all of us."
"Girardi did everything we expected," Hank Steinbrenner, the Yankees' co-chairperson, said in the team's clubhouse. "My thoughts on Girardi are well known since we hired him."
LEADING THE WAY
Nine managers have skippered the Yankees to their 27 World Series titles.
1949-53, '56, '58
1932, '36-'39, '41, '43
From the moment the team assembled this spring in Tampa, Fla., Girardi projected a different air. He appeared looser with his players -- enough to organize a pool tournament in lieu of an on-field workout -- and more at ease with the writers as well.
"Well, I felt good about this club all year," Girardi said. "I said in Spring Training we had a very good club."
Girardi's job carries as much pressure as any position in sports. The Yankees may not be able to win a World Series every year, but they aren't happy if they aren't the last ones standing. Throw in the past eight seasons without a title, and the hot seat only gets hotter for the man in charge.
Girardi's toughest test this season didn't arrive until the playoffs, when he decided to use a three-man starting rotation of Sabathia, Burnett and Andy Pettitte. No team had won a World Series title using only three starting pitchers since the 1991 Twins.
Burnett, working on three days' rest, lasted only two innings in a Game 5 loss, and Girardi's plan looked as though it could backfire. But Pettitte managed to pitch 5 2/3 innings of three-run ball in Game 6, making Girardi's gambit worthwhile.
"It's not realistic in modern sports for anybody in any sport to think about winning every year," Steinbrenner said. "Maybe in the '30s or '40s you could. We try to win every year, and we just do it more than anyone else. That's the bottom line."
The Yankees' offsesaon spending spree increased the already-high expectations. But Girardi's team didn't let its owners down.
"We weren't thinking in financial terms. We were thinking we had the best team in baseball," Steinbrenner said. "We knew it; we knew we had the best team in baseball. They were showing the character that the teams 10 years ago did. So we just expected to win."
"He lets us play, that's the thing," Jeter said. "He writes down the lineup. He's open with us. He's honest with us, he communicates with us well. He gives us a chance to go out there and do our thing. He's done a tremendous job."
Girardi, who played with the Yankees from 1996-99 and won World Series championships in '96, '98 and '99, now has his first taste of a title as a manager.
"The joy is the same, but it's a different type of joy," Girardi said after the victory. "As a player, it's what you dream about ever since you were a little boy, and for me, it was listening to Curt Gowdy do all the World Series games. As a manager, you still have that joy, but the joy is for other people, because you know as a player what it takes to win a championship."
Thomas Boorstein is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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