When Brett Gardner singled in the third inning of Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to Detroit, he extended his career-best hitting streak to 14 games.
This stretch has coincided with the Yankees’ second-half revival — they’ve gone 9-5 to improve to 57-49 — and there’s more than a strong correlation between the two. Gardner, who has batted .317 since July 18, had two walk-off hits against Tampa Bay over the weekend.
His four homers in the last two weeks have given him 19 for the season, helping him pass his previous career high of 17 in 2014. Gardner also stole two bases Tuesday night to move into fifth place on the Yankees’ all-time list with 233.
“He’s really driven the baseball,” manager Joe Girardi said. “The magnitude of the hits, how important they’ve been to our club, he has been a big part of our success this year. Career high in home runs and scoring runs. He’s hit the ball hard.”
In a daring sign of respect for Gardner with Detroit ahead by one run Tuesday night, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus elected to intentionally walk him as the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. With Jacoby Ellsbury on third, Gardner stole second base.
Clint Frazier popped out to end the game.
“You know he’s going to steal second and that’s the winning run,” Girardi said, “so I think Brad Ausmus showed him a lot of respect. Clint Frazier’s swung the bat pretty well in those big situations so it was a risky proposition, but it worked.”
Gardner’s third-inning single Wednesday seemed like it might spark a rally, one the Yankees have not been able to assemble the past two days. Gardner singled with one out and the Yankees trailing 1-0. Jacoby Ellsbury singled Gardner to third and then stole second, but Aaron Judge struck out and Gary Sanchez grounded out to end the inning.
Their next time through the order, in the sixth, it was Judge and Sanchez setting up a potentially big inning. Judge singled leading off and Sanchez doubled him over to third, but Jordan Zimmermann induced a pair of pop-outs by Didi Gregorius and Matt Holliday and struck out Chase Headley to preserve Detroit’s 2-0 lead.
Play stopped before the eighth inning because of a massive thunderstorm. The delay lasted three hours, 11 minutes, and the Yankees failed to mount a comeback.