The cagiest veteran of the Subway Series left his mark on this season’s opener. Brett Gardner, appearing in his 40th contest between the city rivals but perhaps getting his only start in this three-game set at Citi Field, broke the firm grip of Mets ace Jacob deGrom with a tiebreaking two-run homer in the eighth inning as the Yankees earned a 4-1 victory Friday night before a sellout crowd of 42,961 at Citi Field.
DeGrom seemed to be tacking on another brilliant performance in a scintillating season. He rolled in having allowed one run or fewer in a franchise-record eight straight starts and looked to be extending that streak before it ended suddenly. Gleyber Torres hit a two-out single to bring up Gardner — who Yankees manager Aaron Boone said will not start Saturday or Sunday — and he drove a 1-and-0 changeup over the rightfield fence for his fifth home run and a 3-1 lead. He is 32-for-88 (.364) in his last 21 games.
“I was just looking for a good pitch to hit and he left a changeup up and I took a good swing,” Gardner said. “I’m not a guy who’s going to stand up there and go deep every time a pitcher makes a mistake. I’m fortunate to be seeing the ball well, put a good swing on it and come through in a big spot.
“He means so much to our team, kind of the heartbeat,” Aaron Boone said. “Game plan was really on it today. He came up in a big spot there and snuck one out of there.”
Giancarlo Stanton hit a solo homer down the leftfield line off reliever Paul Sewald in the ninth. It was his 15th homer of the season, 22nd home run at Citi Field — the most by any visiting player — and the Yankees’ major league-leading 100th homer of the season.
Aroldis Chapman began the bottom of the ninth by hitting Brandon Nimmo with his second pitch and allowing an infield single by Asdrubal Cabrera, but Michael Conforto lined out to center, Todd Frazier grounded into a forceout at second and Jay Bruce flied to right to end it. Chapman notched his 16th save.
The Yankees — who have gone 32-9 since their 9-9 start — continue to wear down opposing starters before breaking through to prevail. The Mets — who have lost seven in a row (scoring eight runs in the process) and 12 of 14 — can’t muster offensive support for their strong starting pitching. They have not scored more than one run in their last five games.
“DeGrom was great and so pitch-efficient,” Boone said. “He kind of forced us into quick outs because he’s not a guy you want to get behind in the count and he was attacking the strike zone. We usually make it a lot harder, but guys had their game plans . . . and eventually it paid off for us.’’
Said Mets manager Mickey Callaway, “That’s tough. Probably every start he’s made this year, one swing could hurt him and cost us the game because the game is always close. That’s a tough way to go out there and pitch every night.”
The news was not all good for the Yankees. Starter Masahiro Tanaka — who pitched very well after allowing a home run by Nimmo on his second pitch of the game — had to leave after experiencing tightness in both hamstrings while scoring the tying run on Aaron Judge’s sacrifice fly in the sixth inning. Tanaka, who allowed one run, one hit and one walk and struck out eight in five innings, will be re-evaluated Saturday.
DeGrom (4-1) allowed three runs (two earned), four hits and two walks in eight innings. He struck out eight. Before Gardner homered, he had allowed three earned runs in 55 innings, giving up 36 hits and striking out 75, in his last nine games.
The Mets were desperate for any semblance of offense after scoring one run in their previous 35 innings and got Nimmo’s homer right out of the gate. Home runs have been Tanaka’s bugaboo. He allowed one for the sixth straight start, and at the point that Nimmo went deep, Tanaka had allowed 16 in 67 2⁄3 innings. He was very sharp after that, though. He didn’t allow another hit and had to face only 15 Mets to get the next 15 outs, a run that stopped when he got hurt on the bases.
DeGrom had the Yankees completely throttled through the first five innings before Adrian Gonzalez muffed Tanaka’s bouncer in the sixth. Torres followed with a single to center and Gardner worked deGrom for a five-pitch walk to load the bases.
Opposing hitters were 0-for-12 with nine strikeouts when facing deGrom with the bases loaded this season, but Judge lofted a sacrifice fly down the rightfield line. Bruce’s throw came in on the first-base side of home plate and Tanaka raced home to score, crossing the plate without a slide. He appeared to stumble slightly on the way home, though, and did not throw another pitch. Jonathan Holder was on the mound when the Yankees went out for the bottom of the inning.
The Yankees gained a run, but they’ll be holding their breath on Saturday to see if they will lose Tanaka for a start or more.