Gardner recognized that his left arm wasn't the optimal choice to keep the score in Saturday's eventual 7-6, 11-inning victory over the Athletics tied in the ninth, but Aaron Hicks was too far away in center field.
And so it was up to Gardner, who set his feet and uncorked a one-hop throw that arrived in time for catcher Gary Sanchez to slap a game-saving tag on Matt Olson.
"Usually, as outfielders, we talk about plays like that, plays where the ball is hit in the gap a little bit, kind of between two guys," Gardner said. "Hicks was over in the right-center gap, so he couldn't come get it, and I had to take it myself. I guess it worked out, because if he had taken it, they probably wouldn't have even tried to run on him, and who knows what happens?"
Home-plate umpire James Hoye initially flung his arms out to call Olson safe, but Yankees manager Aaron Boone immediately held up a palm to pause the action. Bench coach Josh Bard pressed a telephone receiver to his ear, and quickly received the go-ahead from replay coordinator Brett Weber to have the play reviewed.
"I think I was one of the few [who thought Olson was out], actually," Boone said. "I'm usually wrong. I actually thought I saw ... I think he hit his back. It was nice when Bard turned to me and gave me the word -- 'We're challenging.' Usually when that's the case, Webby is usually right on."
The play was overturned after replay determined that Sanchez's glove swiped the back of Olson's jersey before Olson's left hand made contact with home plate. What had appeared to be a go-ahead sacrifice fly for pinch-hitter Jonathan Lucroy instead went into the books as an inning-ending double play, and the Yanks dashed off the field.
Olson thought he got a good jump and even tried to arch his back in an attempt to avoid being touched by Sanchez's glove.
"I didn't feel myself get tagged, but they're professionals looking at it, and I trust that I did get tagged," Olson said. "I don't know. I think they have extra slo-mo. It's hard to tell on the replay that I looked at, but if he got anything, it was just barely the jersey."
From his vantage point in left-center, Gardner didn't expect the call to be overturned -- that is, until he saw the replay on the center-field video board.
"I thought he was safe," Gardner said. "I knew I made a pretty good throw, but I just thought it was a little late from my angle. I thought he was safe. It wasn't even close once you saw the replay. The camera, once they slow it down, that doesn't lie. It's obviously a bang-bang play, but once I saw the replay, I was excited about it."
The fortuitous tag bailed Aroldis Chapman out of a wild appearance in which he walked the first three batters he faced. Boone said that Chapman was dealing with a cracked fingernail on his pitching hand, which could explain a drop in velocity that saw him sit 96-97 mph with his fastball in the 22-pitch outing.
"I went down to the video room and saw the replay and I said, 'We got him,'" Aaron Judge said. "Great throw by Gardy in a big situation, especially with Chappy ... He walked three guys, bases loaded, no outs. Tough situation, but just a mentally tough outing by him. He probably didn't have his best stuff, but he went out there and competed."