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Brett Gardner’s walk-off homer in 11th inning wins it for Yankees

Brett Gardner of the Yankees is mobbed at

Brett Gardner of the Yankees is mobbed at home plate after his walk-off home run against the  Rays at Yankee Stadium on July 27, 2017. Credit: Jim McIsaac

It was some kind of start to a series Joe Girardi had called “really important,” with the Yankees tying the score with two outs in the ninth inning and winning the game in the 11th on Thursday night. Both runs were scored by Brett Gardner, whom CC Sabathia called “the heart and soul” of the team.

Down to their last out in the ninth, the Yankees tied it against Rays closer Alex Colome on Gary Sanchez’s seeing-eye RBI single. Gardner, who had tripled to lead off the inning, then led off the 11th with a line-drive homer to rightfield that gave the Yankees a 6-5 victory in front of 44,033 at the Stadium.

“He’s our captain,” Clint Frazier said of Gardner (2-for-5). “He’s got the clutch gene, man.”

The Yankees (54-46) inched within a half-game of the idle Red Sox and expanded their lead over the third-place Rays (53-50) to 2 1⁄2 games. They improved to 10-19 in one-run games, including 3-14 in the last 17. “We still fully believe that we’ve got a good enough team to win the division and go to the playoffs,” Gardner said. “That’s our goal.”

The home run, a no-doubter, gave Gardner a career-high 18 and set off a raucous celebration at the plate during which Aaron Judge took a stray helmet to the mouth. The damage was unclear, though based on player reaction, it might not be too serious.

When asked if Judge still had all of his teeth, Gardner said with a smile, “That’s a question for somebody else other than me. We’ll see.”

Gardner tripled into the gap in left-center on a 1-and-2 pitch to start the ninth-inning rally against Colome, who was looking for his 30th save. But Frazier grounded to third with the infield in and Judge popped up to short right, sucking much of the air from the crowd.

That left things up to Sanchez, who homered earlier off Chris Archer. He hit a soft grounder to the left of second base between shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and second baseman Tim Beckham, both of whom seemed to freeze, to make it 5-5. “We caught a break,” Girardi said.

CC Sabathia, 7-1 with a 1.62 ERA in his previous nine starts, rarely has looked as angry as he did in the fifth. With the Yankees protecting a one-run lead, one out and two on, he was pulled, and the clearly vexed lefthander appeared to utter an expletive as Girardi came to the mound.

Sabathia stewed even more in the dugout as Chad Green, unhittable in recent weeks, allowed two inherited runners to score, putting the Yankees in a 4-3 hole. Corey Dickerson’s homer off Green in the sixth made it 5-3.

It was an emotional start to the four-game series and included Girardi’s third ejection of the season. In the seventh, after Judge took a first-pitch strike on a pitch that appeared low and outside, Girardi emerged from the dugout and was ejected by plate umpire Stu Scheurwater. The Triple-A call-up umpire drew the ire of Girardi earlier that inning when he called a 3-and-0 pitch to Gardner a strike on a ball that looked high. Girardi also disputed a strike called on Frazier a batter later. “I just thought it was really inconsistent tonight,” Girardi said, “and he didn’t want to hear it, evidently.”

In the sixth, there was frustration when the Yankees, trailing 5-3, squandered a bases-loaded, one-out situation as Todd Frazier and Tyler Wade struck out.

Dan Jennings allowed consecutive hits by Didi Gregorius and Chase Headley in the eighth and was replaced by Brad Boxberger. Pinch hitter Matt Holliday hit into a 6-4 forceout to make it 5-4. Todd Frazier singled to left, but Wade hit into a 6-6-3 double play.

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