NEW YORK -- Brett Gardner waited a dozen years for his 100th career home run, and the milestone could not have come at a better time for the Yankees.
The longest-tenured Bomber cracked a seventh-inning grand slam that powered his club to a 5-3 victory over the Red Sox on Wednesday evening at Yankee Stadium, as the Yanks swept the abbreviated two-game series against the defending World Series champions.
“It was a big feeling,” Gardner said. “Obviously, the season really hasn't gotten off to the start that I would have liked or envisioned for myself and for the team. To be able to come through in a big spot like that, in what was a big game for the middle of April, it felt good.”
Despite watching starter J.A. Happ give up three runs through the first two innings, the Yankees rallied for their first home series victory of the season, and that comeback was cause for celebration in their spacious clubhouse.
As the players came off the field, a portable fog machine and strobe lights transformed the room into a thumping nightclub, briefly delaying manager Aaron Boone from his postgame media briefing.
“We deserved the fog because we won a hard game out there,” said Clint Frazier, who went 3-for-4 with a run-scoring double, raising his batting average to .333. “That was a good game. Everybody played a part in it in some way, and it’s huge to beat the Red Sox right now.”
Nathan Eovaldi mostly handcuffed his former team through six innings, permitting an unearned run on three hits, but the Yankees broke through against Boston’s bullpen in the seventh.
Brandon Workman loaded the bases on a hit and two walks, and Gardner fouled off a tough slider before connecting with a 96.7 mph fastball through the heart of home plate, sending a line drive over the auxiliary scoreboard in right field.
"Whoo, that was big," Boone said. "Brasier is a real tough guy to fall behind. Huge blow. We were able to hang around tonight after getting behind. J.A. was able to settle in and really give us some quality innings after the first two. A lot of good things happened tonight, and the homer was obviously huge."
Gardner raised his right fist as he rounded the bases for the Yanks’ first grand slam of the season. Gardner has averaged 12 homers per 162 games over his Major League career, and 3,626 days have passed since he hit his first, on May 13, 2009, off of the Blue Jays' Scott Richmond.
"That's why I'm 35 and it took me this long to get to 100," Gardner said. "I never could have envisioned playing this long or hitting that many. I'm not a home run hitter, so I've just been really fortunate to stay healthy and be surrounded by a lot of great coaches, a lot of great teammates."
Aaron Judge said that he has been ribbing Gardner about being stuck on 99 homers, and he greeted his teammate with two words: "About time."
"I think he was just waiting for the right moment," Judge said. "Bases loaded against Boston, that was a special moment, a special swing, and there's nobody else I'd rather have up at the plate in that situation. Over the years, you guys saw it when we played Cleveland in the ALDS [in 2017]. He came up so many times for us in that series and other series. It's who you want at the plate in a big situation like that."
The big blast took Happ off the hook, as the veteran’s struggles with the long ball continued in the first two innings.
J.D. Martinez hit a first-inning solo shot and Christian Vazquez connected for a two-run blast in the second off Happ, who then steered away from his four-seam fastball in favor of a two-seamer. The audible permitted him to complete 6 1/3 frames, scattering six hits.
"I have had plenty of games over the years where I have relied a lot on the two-seamer," Happ said. "You get in trouble when you give them too much credit. At the same time, you've got to try to go with what is working."
As the Yankees returned to the clubhouse, Gardner was informed that he had guests waiting. A young fan named Will from Greenwich, Conn., had snagged his milestone blast, and he eagerly presented the memento to Gardner. In return, a few autographs and selfies were requested, and Gardner happily obliged.
Clutching the baseball in his right hand, Gardner quipped, “It's something that I'm sure my kids will appreciate. They'll probably be in the driveway playing catch with it tomorrow, but that's all right, too.”