Brett Gardner kept returning to the same two words:

Disappointment.

Disappointed.

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Disappointment in the Yankees' 3-0 loss to the Astros in the American League wild-card game Tuesday night, disappointment in his team's stumble at the finish line, disappointment in an offense that all but fell off a cliff in the season's final month.

But in answering a question about the team's inability to extend its postseason beyond one game, Gardner, unprompted, brought up his greatest source of frustration.

"Very disappointed in the way the season ended and the way my season ended and the way I played down the stretch," the outfielder said after striking out three times against Astros lefthander Dallas Keuchel and going 0-for-4 in the wild-card loss. "I take a lot of pride in getting on base and scoring runs and doing those types of things, and the last part of the season I didn't do a good job of that, so it's going to be tough for me to let this go for a little bit."

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It was an unexpected nosedive for the 32-year-old, who earned his first career All-Star bid in the season's first half, when he posted a .302/.377/.484 slash line.

But the second half couldn't have been more different. His slash line was .206/.300/.292, including .191/.267/.287 in the final 26 games of the regular season.

Combine that with the inconsistent Jacoby Ellsbury, who was leading the team in average (.324) and OBP (.412) when he went to the disabled list with a sprained right knee May 20 but never approached that performance after returning July 8 (producing a .224/.269/.332 slash line the rest of the way). The pair stopped setting the table and played big roles in the Yankees' offensive struggles.

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"I just didn't play well," Gardner said. "I'm not going to sit here and make excuses. I was inconsistent, or you could say I was consistently bad, whichever way you want to put it. But I just could never seem to get in a groove and get things going like I had in May and June."

Though he never said anything, there were some in the organization who wondered if Gardner, who has long been respected in the clubhouse for the aggressive manner in which he plays, was battling an injury he didn't discuss.

Among those wondering after the fact if there was something going on was Joe Girardi. Most perplexing was a player who had only five of his 20 stolen bases after July 1, two in the final month.

"No, there is no answer," Girardi said at his end-of-season news conference Friday. "Part of it was that he wasn't on nearly as much the second half and teams paid attention to him obviously a lot. Physically, he never really complained about his legs, but physically, when a guy doesn't steal as much, maybe they don't physically feel as good and they're not going to tell you . . . It's odd to me and I would ask him how he felt on a number of occasions . . . He wasn't running as much."

Girardi indicated that in planning for 2016, plotting Gardner's use will be a priority.

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"Speed guys are going to get beat up as much as anybody, so in saying that, I think with a Brett Gardner, I'll look at how I used him," Girardi said. "As an organization, we have to look at the optimal amount of time you need to rest him for him to be the most productive."

To the very end, Gardner denied having any injuries.

"We play a lot of games in a short amount of time, so you go through times when you've got things going on, but I was healthy enough to be out there," he said. "Like I said, I'm not going to sit here and make excuses and blame my performance on something I had going, because I don't feel that's the case. I just didn't play as well as I should have, and obviously I'm very disappointed in that."With Laura Albanese