ANAHEIM, Calif. - The major slippage of the Yankees' offense that seemed inevitable when Jacoby Ellsbury went on the disabled list May 20 never happened.
And although Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann have had a hand in that, Brett Gardner has played the biggest role.
The leftfielder not only became Ellsbury's primary replacement in centerfield but also assumed his spot as the club's leadoff hitter, no small shoes to fill.
When Ellsbury landed on the DL, he was leading the Yankees in average (.324) and on-base percentage (.412).
But Gardner, hitting .300 with a .373 OBP, nine homers and 39 RBIs entering Monday night, has taken off, and not just of late. In 35 games since Ellsbury went down, Gardner -- who entered Monday night tied for the major-league lead in runs (58) -- had a .308/.379/.545 slash line with six homers, 12 doubles and 23 RBIs.
Gardner was named the AL Player of the Week Monday after going 13-for-26 with two homers, six RBIs, nine runs and four doubles in six games. That's part of a stretch of 10 games in which he went 22-for-45 (.489) with four homers, one triple, five doubles, 11 RBIs, 15 runs and an off-the-charts 1.451 OPS.
"Just been swinging the bat well," Gardner said before Monday night's game against the Angels. "I've been getting good pitches to hit and it helps when guys in front of you are getting on base and giving you chances to drive them in."
Gardner, a third-round pick in 2005 out of the College of Charleston in South Carolina, broke in with the Yankees in 2008. For most of the time since then, he has been viewed as a slap hitter and base-stealer. Now he's developing some power.
"I think he's become a complete player," said Joe Girardi, Gardner's manager since 2008. "He's not just a leadoff hitter that plays good defense. He's a guy that drives in runs and does a lot of different things for your offense. He's not just a singles hitter, and I think that's where he's developed the most."
Gardner said he chalks that up to "looking to use the whole field," something he didn't do in college or the first part of his professional career.
"Going back to my days in college, I know we're talking 10, 11, 12 years ago, but I really was just closed off and not hitting the ball the other way and not worrying about pitches on the inside of the plate," he said. "Now I'm just trying to be in a better position to hit and be a little bit more aggressive and just use the whole field. I'm not a home run hitter, but if guys come in there [inside], at least be in a position where I can try and hit a ball hard."
Gardner's five-week surge has him in good position to make his first All-Star Game. He won't get in with fan balloting -- he wasn't in the top 15 in balloting released Monday -- but has a decent chance of being selected by the players, who get to choose the backups and the DH.
On his ballot, he said he "put several guys before me." But rest assured that he has a better-than-decent chance of showing up on enough ballots to get in.
"If I'm one of the guys that deserves to go, then I'd like to be a part of it," he said. "But if there's other guys that deserve to go before me, then I think they should represent the American League. It's out of my control. I just worry about what I can do."