HOUSTON — Joe Girardi embraced his coaches, then charged out of the New York Yankees' dugout, pumping his fists and hugging his players. With one back slap after another, there was no hiding his elation.
The manager's miscues from Game 2 of the AL Division Series no longer mattered, all thanks to the battling baby Bronx Bombers.
"People make mistakes and we pick each other up, that's what we do here," first baseman Greg Bird said. "We're going to keep doing that. ... It's got us to where we are, and it's going to get us to where we want to be."
New York is set to face Houston in its first AL Championship Series since 2012, which was three years after its last World Series — that coming in Girardi's second season as manager. It is still uncertain if he will get an 11th year as the Yankees skipper.
A week after their season was on the brink of ending — down 2-0 in the best-of-five series against the 102-win Cleveland Indians — the Yankees are in a new series.
Girardi described the difference between his emotions "as big as you get" from the aftermath of the Game 2 loss to the end of the Game 5 clincher in Cleveland on Wednesday night. He said he has never felt as bad in his career as he did after that second game.
New York plays the first two games of the best-of-seven ALCS on the road against the Astros. After games at Minute Maid Park on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, the series will shift to Yankee Stadium for Game 3 on Monday.
"That's a good way of putting it, fresh start. I think for (Girardi), New York's crazy. It's tough. When you're a manager there, you're going to go through a lot of criticism, a lot of ups and a lot more downs," third baseman Todd Frazier said. "So he took it to heart and we felt for him, and as a team we came together. He just said: 'Hey, let's go one game at a time like we've been doing.' And lo and behold we won three in a row."
Girardi, whose contract expires after this season, was booed at home during introductions before ALDS Game 3 on Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, two days after starter CC Sabathia was pulled after only 77 pitches and the bullpen then squandered a five-run lead.
Most notably, there was Girardi's decision to not ask for a replay challenge of a pivotal hit-by-pitch call prior to Francisco Lindor's grand slam that trimmed the margin to 8-7 in the sixth. Cleveland won 9-8 in 13 innings.
Before Game 3, Girardi met with his team and "told them I screwed up. Plain and simple." After owning up, he told them to focus on winning the next game. They went on to take the series.
"The game, it's going to knock you down. We were able to get back up, and obviously it was a nice result for him," infielder Chase Headley said. "I know it's a tough moment for him. ... When you're playing these short series, a lot of things get exaggerated. It's kind of fun to start over."
Still, Bird said the ALDS was an intense series that was a lot of fun — and a great learning experience for this Yankees team with its mix of young and veteran players.
Girardi certainly had no concerns about the state of his players after an emotional ALDS when facing elimination three consecutive games — and that was after the win-or-go-home AL wild-card game over Minnesota.
"I think we're on an emotional high," Girardi said. "I'm not concerned. I think they're in a good state mentally."
The manager was also feeling pretty good again.