Thursday, October 5News That Matters

Brett Gardner, Yankees elder statesman, leads comeback at the plate and in the field


NEW YORK — A raucous Yankee Stadium was very quickly quieted in the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday night. The Minnesota Twins hammered New York Yankees ace Luis Severino for three runs, including two home runs, in the first inning. Severino recorded one out in the game. He was historically bad.

Minnesota’s early 3-0 lead lasted a half-inning. Not even. The Yankees answered with three runs in the bottom of the first on a Didi Gregorius three-run home run. That rally was set up by leadoff man Brett Gardner, who worked a six pitch walk against Ervin Santana to put the offensive wheels in motion.

“Leading off the bottom of the first, I don’t have much time to talk. Just keep up the enthusiasm (in the dugout), stay optimistic,” said Gardner following the Wild Card Game. “There’s a lot of game left, we’ve got some guys in the lineup that do a really good job getting on base and seeing a lot of pitches and driving up Santana’s pitch count. Things worked out for us.”

In the second inning, Gardner gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead with a solo home run into the right field second deck, and after the ball left his bat, he stared down Santana for buzzing him up and in with the previous pitch. Gardner is typically an old school put-your-head-down-and-run player. He was mad and he let Santana know it.

“I was pretty excited to just be able to jump back in the lead there in the second inning,” added Gardner. “I know it’s early in the game, but any time we can give our bullpen the lead, we feel good about our chances. Those guys did a great job.”

Two innings after his go-ahead home run, Gardner helped create two insurance runs with a one-out single the other way against hard-throwing Jose Berrios. That set up Aaron Judge for a two-run home run and a 7-4 Yankees lead. All told, Gardner went 2 for 4 with a walk and a home run in the Wild Card Game, and scored three of his team’s eight runs.

There are two dimensions to Gardner’s game, however. He is also a shutdown defensive left fielder likely to win his second straight Gold Glove this season. His defense became a factor in the sixth inning, when Joe Mauer lifted a long fly ball into the left field corner with two on and two outs. The Yankees were still up 7-4 at the time, so Mauer was representing the tying run. Gardner ran the ball down in a full sprint a few steps in front of the wall.

“I was pretty confident I was going to catch the ball. I was pretty confident that I would get to hope. I was just hoping I didn’t run out of room,” said Gardner.

For obvious reasons, the bullpen is the story of the Wild Card Game for the Yankees. Those guys were phenomenal. Gregorius hitting the game-tying home run and Judge hitting the big two-run home run were the highlights offensively. Those were the swings that helped the Yankees get back into the game and eventually win it.

Both home runs were set up by Gardner, the leadoff man and the longest-tenured Yankee, and the team’s unofficial captain. He’s a leader in the clubhouse, a mentor for the young players, and also the class clown. When a prank is being pulled, Gardner is usually involved. He’s not Derek Jeter or Thurman Munson in terms of star power, but he is a leader, and he’s an integral part of the Yankees. On Tuesday night, he was in the middle of everything, both offensively and defensively.

“He’s a spark plug, and he’s a leader in that clubhouse,” said manager Joe Girardi following the Wild Card Game. “The one thing that we’ve seen always in Gardy is fight in him. He’s got a lot of fight. And I thought that’s what our club showed tonight … Gardy is a big leader in that, and he takes every at-bat like it’s his last at-bat and is going to fight you tooth and nail, and he just kind of sets the tone.”

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