David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
ST. LOUIS - Brett Gardner described the wall-defying, game-saving catch he made to rob Yadier Molina in the 11th inning Monday as an "easy play." His definition of the word "easy," however, makes us wonder if we both use the same dictionary.
Easy, to us, is a lazy fly ball. One that requires a few steps to track. Maybe in the third inning.
No, what Gardner did was difficult. A full Busch Stadium screaming, the game hinging on whether he grabbed the ball or not.
"That's the way Gardy plays," Joe Girardi said after the Yankees escaped with a 6-4, 12-inning win over the Cardinals. "He's all out, all the time."
To paraphrase Jack Nicholson, the Yankees wanted Gardner on that wall. They needed him on that wall. And what the heck, a little measure of revenge didn't hurt either. It was Molina who cut down Gardner trying to steal in the eighth inning, ending a 13-for-13 streak that dated to Aug. 25 -- when Gardner was thrown out by Yadier's brother Jose, the Rays' catcher.
"It doesn't surprise me," Gardner said upon hearing that. "Runs in the family."
There's no shame in getting thrown out by Molina. Entering yesterday, he had a 52 percent success rate (11-for-21), and Gardner wasn't even close on his try. But that didn't stick with Gardner as much as his fence-climbing failure to snag Matt Holliday's leadoff double in the sixth inning, a play that set up the Cardinals to tie the score.
Gardner didn't use the word easy to describe that one, expressing regret that he didn't come down with it -- even though he scaled the bullpen wall like Spider-Man and used the bottom row of padding as a launchpad. It would have been a spectacular catch.
"I learned from Ichiro," Gardner said, smiling. "I felt like it was a play I should have made."
Considering that this was his first trip to Busch Stadium -- old or new -- Gardner didn't have the benefit of a basic knowledge of the ballpark. Other than shagging fly balls during batting practice, he didn't have any experience with the wind here or how the ball carries. Gardner blamed that more than anything for not getting the best read on Holliday's long drive.
He thought the ball was going farther to his left, yet when Gardner went airborne, it wound up behind him. Fortunately for the Yankees, that didn't prove fatal. They strung together four more scoreless innings, but by the 11th, it looked as if their luck with Alfredo Aceves was on the verge of running out.
The Cardinals were barreling up pitches to no avail, and when Aceves' fastball grazed Holliday's jersey to open the 11th, that figured to be the beginning of the end. Matt Adams smacked a hard line drive right at Ichiro for the first out, and next up was Molina, who looked as though he was in a hurry to finish things. He got what he wanted when Aceves grooved a fastball, and there was little doubt that Molina's shot would land anywhere but the Yankees' bullpen.
But Gardner appeared to have a better read the second time.
The ball hung up for a while, and that allowed Gardner to fade back toward the track. When he arrived at the wall, he jumped and reached up.
"It was kind of right at me," Gardner said. "Just over my head. If the fence is 10 to 15 feet further back, then people aren't even talking about it."
Yeah, sure. But this wasn't Death Valley in the Bronx, where the leftfield wall juts out to 390 in the same spot. At Busch, it's closer to 375, and that made for a tighter squeeze.
"I think it would have been a homer," Jacoby Ellsbury said. "Tremendous effort going back on a ball like that."
No one had a better view than Ellsbury, and we didn't hear him say there was anything easy about that catch. But now we're looking forward to seeing Gardner make a hard one.