- Associated Press - Thursday, September 23, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - In Yankeeland, a trip to the playoffs is not enough. It’s the World Series or bust.

Thinking deep into October, manager Joe Girardi has taken considerable heat from fans and the New York media for several curious calls to the bullpen during the past couple of weeks that some think could hinder the club’s chances of winning the AL East.

You know what? Girardi doesn’t care.

With a playoff spot all but assured, he’s concentrating on one thing: defending the World Series championship.

“I really believe that if you don’t have a belief system, if you’re not prepared, then you will be influenced by outside influences. We go into the game every day with a plan,” Girardi said Thursday before the Yankees played the rival Tampa Bay Rays in the finale of a crucial four-game series. “You can’t be influenced if people don’t necessarily like what you’re doing.”

New York entered with a 1 1/2-game lead in the division over Tampa Bay with 10 games to go and a magic number of three for clinching a playoff spot. The Yankees were tied with the surging Minnesota Twins for the best record in baseball.

Even in the tight race for home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs, Girardi has been steadfast in resting his All-Stars and protecting his bullpen _ even if it might cost the team a game.

“I will do everything to win the division without hurting our players,” he said.

With a chance to go up 3 1/2 games on the Rays on Wednesday night, Girardi called on Royce Ring, Dustin Moseley and Chad Gaudin to face Tampa Bay after a long rain delay rather than use one of his more established pitchers. The Rays beat the Yankees 7-2.

General manager Brian Cashman supports his manager’s approach.

“There’s a stigma that you don’t want to be the wild card. We’ve been beaten by the wild-card Red Sox, we’ve been beaten by the wild-card Marlins,” Cashman said. “The most important thing is to get in, and then after that to get in and be at max health. Just want to be sure everybody’s lined up.”

The Yankees have dealt with nagging injuries all season to several of their top players. Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada all missed time. Mark Teixeira has been playing with a broken toe and sore thumb, and Nick Swisher has a sore knee. Late-inning reliever Dave Robertson strained his back and had an MRI exam Wednesday.

Girardi has tried to rest them all. Last week at Tampa Bay, he kept both Brett Gardner and Swisher out of the outfield to rest injuries. He even benched slumping Derek Jeter for a game in Texas, a potential playoff opponent. Jeter is hitting .357 since then.

“I think our team’s in a much better place than it was a week ago,” Cashman said. “Not just in the standings but in terms of health and managerial choices and that’s based on decisions over the past two weeks.”

With the addition of 6-foot-10 reliever Andrew Brackman on Thursday, Girardi has 13 relievers he can call on. He also has several additional bench players. One, Greg Golson, made an impressive throw to third base from right field to nail speedy Carl Crawford to end a game last week.

“A lot times you can rely on other people and they can step up and help you win, too. We do have a deep roster. September gives us a lot more choices,” Cashman said. “I want to win the division, I want to have the best record in the game.”