Brett Gardner's power a pleasant surprise for Yankees

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter left, catches the pick
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Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter left, catches the pick off attempt at second base against a sliding Texas Rangers J.P. Arencibia during the fourth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, July 30, 2014, in Arlington, Texas.(Credit: AP / LM Otero)

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ARLINGTON, Texas - Brett Gardner chalked up his success against Yu Darvish to a "small sample size.''

The Rangers star righthander attributed it to something else.

"I just blame the parents of Brett Gardner,'' Darvish said late Monday night, according to ESPNDallas, after Gardner touched him for two home runs in the Rangers' 4-2 victory over the Yankees. "I just blame them for creating a great hitter.''

Gardner improved to 5-for-11, with four homers, in his career against Darvish. More important to the Yankees, the outfielder continued what has been the best season of his career.

The 30-year-old entered Tuesday's game hitting .276, third on the team behind Jacoby Ellsbury and Derek Jeter, with a .352 on-base percentage, which leads the regulars.

Those numbers aren't a complete surprise, but this one is: 13, Gardner's home runs this season, including a leadoff shot last night against the Rangers' Nick Martinez. Gardner's previous high was eight last season.

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Has Joe Girardi been surprised by the power Gardner has shown this year?

"I think players have it, but I think they learn how to use it better,'' Girardi said. "He's playing every day, physically he feels good. He's been able to stay away from some of the nagging stuff he's had before. And some years guys just get more pitches to hit out of the ballpark. But I've always felt that he could hit double digits.''

Gardner's home runs happen to be second on the team to Mark Teixeira's 17. That speaks well of the season Gardner is having, but not so well of an offense that has struggled in most categories.

The Yankees entered Tuesday 12th in the AL in runs (415), 11th in on-base percentage (.314), 10th in OPS (.696) and ninth in homers (93).

Still, the numbers would be far worse if not for Gardner, who most talent evaluators believe has been the club's offensive MVP.

Girardi theorized that part of Gardner's success this season can be traced to his decision before the season to pass up the possibility of free agency, agreeing to a four-year, $52-million extension.

"Probably,'' Girardi said. "I think some players, it really helps because it helps them relax a little bit and just be who they are and not try to do too much. Other guys go the other way, but I think it helped him.''

Gardner, however, has said it's hard to say one way or the other if playing in his "walk year'' would have ratcheted up the pressure.

"I don't know because I don't know how it would have been if I had done it the other way," he said last week in an interview at his locker at the Stadium on that subject.

"I really don't think about it that much, to be honest. It was something at the time I wanted to do and no matter what happened, good or bad, I knew I would be happy with my decision.''

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Gardner probably would be worth more on the open market coming off this kind of season than what he signed for. Still, he said he hasn't looked back.

"For me, it was a matter of making the decision obviously based on numbers and what I was comfortable with,'' he said. "But also a big part of my decision was I felt like by signing that contract it gave me the best chance to stay in New York and hopefully finish my career in New York. I felt like signing the contract gave me the best opportunity to do that.''

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