Marlins beat Yanks in Girardi's return

March 28, 2008 7:04:28 PM PDT
Joe Girardi's return to Florida was not a perfect one.Back in the place he called home for a surprisingly successful and somehow tumultuous 2006 season as Florida's manager, Girardi's New York Yankees lost to the Marlins 5-3 on Friday night in the next-to-last exhibition game for both clubs.

Mike Jacobs homered twice for Florida, which hosts the Yankees again Saturday night.

Alex Rodriguez, playing in his hometown for the first time since high school, homered, doubled and drove in two runs for the Yankees, who got two hits apiece from Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi.

But this one will be remembered for being Girardi's first game at Dolphin Stadium since the '06 season - when, even after nearly guiding the low-budget Marlins into the playoffs and winning the NL manager of the year award, he was fired. The Marlins said he simply wasn't a good fit, although most believed the move came because of an ongoing rift with Florida owner Jeffrey Loria.

"The Marlins were gracious enough to give me my first opportunity as a manager," said Girardi, who was hired this offseason to replace Joe Torre as manager of the Yankees. "We had a wonderful year. There's a lot of good feelings when I come back in here."

If the homecoming was awkward for Girardi, he didn't let it show.

He was given baseball's youngest team and lowest payroll - $15 million - in 2006, and somehow led the Marlins to a 78-84 record in a season where they contended for a wild-card spot until late September.

Girardi wound up getting 18 of 32 first-place votes in the NL manager balloting, easily beating the Mets' Willie Randolph for the award, which he proudly displays in the home he still maintains in South Florida.

"What it really meant to me is the team did their job," Girardi said. "The players and the coaches win that award. It's the work that the trainers, the strength coach, the scouts ... to me, that's an organizational award because you can't do it without the club. It's a wonderful award and I'm very thankful that I received it, but players deserve a lot of credit."

Girardi's fate in Miami was likely sealed, though, on Aug. 6 of that year.

Loria began shouting at an umpire from his field-side seat, and Girardi poked his head outside the dugout to ask Loria to stop. Tensions were clearly high the rest of the season, and the firing was not a shock to anyone around the organization.

"I just moved on," Girardi said. "Life sometimes is a little bit different than you think it's going to be. ... But I think I'm blessed to be where I'm at. I truly believe that I'm blessed and fortunate to have this opportunity."

The Yankees were clearly the fan favorites Friday night. Most of the 30,227 who bought tickets - a total that would have represented Florida's fifth-largest home crowd last season - backed the Bronx Bombers.

Marlins starter Andrew Miller allowed nine hits in five innings, including Rodriguez's fourth homer of the spring, but left with a 4-3 lead after throwing 91 pitches.

Florida scored three runs in the third off Yankees starter Mike Mussina, who'll pitch in New York's second game of the season Wednesday against Toronto. Dan Uggla had an RBI single and Jacobs followed with a two-run homer.

Jacobs struck again off Mussina in the sixth, this time hitting a 417-foot shot to right to give Florida a 5-3 lead.

Mussina allowed five runs and five hits in 5 1-3 innings, throwing 73 pitches, 48 for strikes. He gave up a run in the second on Jorge Cantu's sacrifice fly, and Matt Treanor nearly drove in Florida's second run of that inning - but Bobby Abreu made a nifty running catch in right-center to strand Luis Gonzalez.

The Yankees used three doubles, by Damon, Jeter and Rodriguez, to score twice off Miller in the third, and A-Rod's 407-foot shot to left field in the fifth drew New York within one.

Joe Nelson, who'll start the season in Triple-A, worked the ninth for his sixth save of the spring.