It is clear, though, that the Yankees viewed this moment as something of a pivot point. After coming so close to the World Series, they now expect to get there, and win, within the term of the next manager’s contract. Girardi took this group to the edge of a title, and now his successor — they hope — will haul it over the top.
For all the niceties in the five-sentence statement from General Manager Brian Cashman announcing the move — he praised Girardi’s work ethic and heart, and wished him well — he gave no explanation for the move.
“Everything this organization does is done with careful and thorough consideration,” the statement said, leaving open the question of what Cashman considered to be lacking in Girardi.
After a decade of working with him, Cashman knew precisely what he had in Girardi. He is said not to have held Girardi’s tactical blunder in the division series against him (Girardi failed to ask for a video review that could have prevented a Cleveland Indians grand slam), but he knows what kind of team he has built, and he decided not to have Girardi lead it.
To Cashman, Girardi’s style might not mesh well with a team of players in their 20s. The veterans Girardi managed for most of his tenure, essentially, were fully formed major leaguers before they played for him. A younger group may respond better to a manager who projects less tension and more outward calm.
In the A.L.C.S., the Yankees got a close look at a manager who does that, one with renowned communication skills: A. J. Hinch of the Astros, who recovered from three losses at Yankee Stadium to take the final two games in Houston. Hinch’s Astros also eliminated the Yankees in the 2015 A.L. wild card game, the Yankees’ only other playoff appearance in the last five years.
“He just believes in every single one of us, and he shows you that,” Alex Bregman, the Astros’ 23-year-old third baseman, said on Thursday. “He shows that he has confidence in everybody on our roster. He’s a motivator and a guy that you want to play for — a guy that you want to run through a wall for.”
Girardi speaks often of believing in his guys. But he showed no faith in Dellin Betances, a four-time All-Star reliever, when he yanked him after he had faced two batters in his final appearance of the regular season — with a four-run lead in the ninth inning.
Betances had seemed to be turning around an inconsistent season, but after that outing he became a playoff afterthought. Twice Girardi pulled him after two batters in the postseason when the Yankees held a big lead, and by the fateful Game 7 of the A.L.C.S. — after burning Chad Green for two and a third innings in Game 6 — Girardi was left with limited options.
Of course, the Yankees did not score in Game 7, so their pitching options made little difference. And bullpen management, in general, has always seemed to be a strength of Girardi’s, along with his meticulous preparation.
Yet over Girardi’s tenure, managers increasingly became extensions of the front office, and the Yankees, with their increasing emphasis on analytics, were no different. If Girardi and Cashman were still in lock step — on overall philosophy, game management or both — their partnership would most likely still be intact.
Instead, Cashman severed it, as the Washington Nationals did with Dusty Baker and the Boston Red Sox with John Farrell, both after having made the playoffs two years in a row. In one of his final acts on the job, Girardi made a point to seek out Hinch in the home clubhouse in Houston after Game 7 to congratulate him and wish him well.
“He’s a real class act,” Hinch said on Thursday, adding later, “I don’t think anyone goes through what Joe goes through in New York.”
Girardi went through it all as a winner — 10 seasons, 10 winning records and a somewhat puzzling departure. Fans once wondered how anyone could adequately replace Joe Torre, who won four championships. Now we could ask the same question about replacing Girardi, who won just one title but kept a stable, successful atmosphere for a decade.