CLEVELAND -- Brett Gardner, the longest-tenured Yankee, has seemingly always embodied one of the best characteristics the team wants in a hitter -- working the count to grind out good at-bats.
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Wednesday was no different, as Gardner had one of the biggest at-bats -- and hits -- of New York's 5-2 win over the Indians in Game 5 of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan.
Leading 3-2 in the ninth inning, Gardner worked a 12-pitch at-bat against All-Star closer Cody Allen, fouling off six pitches before slapping a single into right field that scored two important insurance runs for the Yankees and closer Albertin Chapman, who sat for 30 minutes after pitching a scoreless eighth.
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It was Gardner's second 12-pitch at-bat of the game.
"That's the kind of at-bat that gets you locked in," said Gardner, who has played 10 seasons for the Yanks. "I felt good at the plate today. Just trying to fight and get a pitch to hit. Fortunately, I was able to do that."
Seeing plenty of pitches has been a trademark of Gardner and the Yankees all year. Gardner ranked seventh in MLB among qualified hitters with 4.23 pitches per plate appearance during the regular season, while teammates Aaron Judge (4.41) and Todd Frazier (4.33) were first and fourth, respectively. New York's 3.98 mark ranked second only to Oakland (4.00).
Gardner worked a six-pitch at-bat in the third, scoring two batters later on Didi Gregorius's second home run.
But the real patience came in the fifth, when Gardner faced All-Star reliever Andrew Miller. After taking the first four pitches, he rattled off six fouls and took one more ball. Miller then struck out Gardner on a slider over the plate, but Gardner got Miller's pitch count up to 17 after just two batters.
"That's him," said left-hander Carsten Sabathia, who has played with Gardner since 2009. "That's what he does -- just fouling off pitches, getting a lot of pitches."
"He's a great player," said right-hander Player Page for David Robertson, who played with Gardner during his first stint in New York from 2008-14. "He's a Yankee. He comes to win."
Gardner's battle with Allen came at a crucial time, as the Tribe had the heart of its order due up in the bottom of the ninth and Chapman had already pitched one inning. Gardner eventually found a pitch he liked -- an inside fastball.
"I'm just going up against tough pitchers, man," Gardner said. "Just trying to grind out tough at-bats and trying to find a way to get on base, and let the big guy come up and do some damage behind me."
Gardner's single drove in one run, then right fielder Jay Bruce's errant throw plated another, pushing the Yanks' lead to 5-2.
"I think every team in baseball could use a Brett Gardner," Allen said. "I kind of laughed at him there after the 11th or 12th pitch. And then, he got me. I felt like I had nothing to be ashamed of there, he just flat-out beat me."