Brett Gardner is uncertain what his future holds, but the longest-tenured Yankee finished his regular season strong, earning a place in the outfield for Tuesday’s Game 1 of the American League Wild Card Series against the Indians at Progressive Field.
Gardner rewarded manager Aaron Boone’s faith by keeping his bat going in the Yankees’ 12-3 victory over the Tribe, slugging a two-run homer as part of a three-hit, three-RBI performance.
“I always prepare as if I'm going to be out there,” Gardner said. “I had a good idea last night before I went to bed that I would be in there. Whatever my role is, I'll be ready. I'm excited about being in the lineup and excited about some of the swings I took tonight. It's important for us to come out and do the same thing again tomorrow.”
Boone selected Gardner to play left field over Clint Frazier, citing their late-season performance and the ability to add Gardner’s left-handed bat to a righty-heavy lineup against right-hander Shane Bieber.
Gardner stroked a run-scoring double off Bieber in the fourth, then went deep in the seventh off Cam Hill and added a single in the ninth facing Oliver Pérez.
“Just really good at-bats,” Boone said. “I felt like his double to give us another run and pad the lead seemed huge. Then to throw one out there off the lefty at the end, just a great night by Gardy. I’m really happy for him.”
Gardner batted .394 (13-for-33) with two homers and six RBIs in his final 13 games, while Frazier finished the year in a 1-for-20 (.050) skid with 11 strikeouts. Though Frazier has made great strides to improve his defense this year, Boone said that the large left-field area factored into his decision.
“It wasn’t an overwhelming factor; [Gardner over Frazier] was something that was very close for me," Boone said. "Any time I’m considering Gardy, the defense factors in.”
Gardner has a $10 million club option for next season, which includes a $2.5 million buyout. As Gardner walked out of Yankee Stadium earlier this week, he said that he hoped and expected to return, but acknowledged that there was no guarantee.
“I’m going to try to appreciate it and take it all in,” Gardner said. “I’ll enjoy these last couple of months with my teammates, go out there and battle with those guys. I’m excited about this opportunity that’s ahead of us.”
For the first time since March, the Yankees heard cheers that are not produced by a computer. About half of the players’ families have accompanied them into the playoff bubble and will be permitted to attend games in the Wild Card Series in Cleveland.
“My wife [Tori] is here with me, and she’s super excited to attend tonight -- first one this season,” said Luke Voit. “It’ll be good for some of the families to see us.”
A limited number of fans could be in attendance for later rounds in Arlington, where the National League Championship Series and World Series will be played. Boone said that he hopes having some friendly faces in the seats will help his players focus.
“It’s a little bit of an escape when we get finished at the end of the night,” Boone said. “Hopefully, it’s something that provides a little comfort for our guys.”
The next time you see the Yankees in the Bronx, their season will be over, even if it ends with a championship. Their road record has thus been mentioned as a potential area of concern, coming off a year in which they were 11-18 away from home.
Hogwash, says Voit, who believes the Yankees will be just fine in Cleveland or any of the neutral sites.
“We’re ready to play. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Cleveland, San Diego or Texas,” Voit said. “Everyone’s saying that we only play good in Yankee Stadium. That’s a bunch of B.S. Visitors or home, we’re going to come out there with a locked-and-loaded lineup, and our pitchers are going to be attacking the zone.”
Boone said that he is planning on using left-hander J.A. Happ as his starter for a potential Game 3, but said that he is “not necessarily committed” to that decision.
Happ has said that he is preparing as though he would get the nod for Game 3 over 21-year-old rookie Deivi García. The 37-year-old Happ pitched to a 2.34 ERA over his final seven starts, while García registered a 4.98 ERA in six starts.
This date in Yankees history
Sept. 29, 1987: Don Mattingly hit his sixth grand slam of the season in a 6-0 victory over the Red Sox, establishing a Major League record (since tied by Travis Hafner in 2006).