In the game of inches that baseball can be, Brett Gardner had just enough of them Tuesday night. Gardner got a big enough piece of a Chris Devenski fastball with one out in the ninth inning. It carried just over the outstretched glove of Houston rightfielder George Springer and into the stands for a game-tying two-run homer.
Aaron Judge — author of many of baseball’s longest home runs — kidded Gardner about his “wall-scraper” after the Yankees’ 6-5 win in 10 innings was logged but it was no laughing matter to the Astros.
“I wasn’t sure. I hit it pretty high and you never know what the wind is doing,” Gardner said. “The high ones obviously get affected more by the wind, so I knew it was going to be close. It was exciting it went over.”
When it did, Gardner extended one finger skyward as he neared second base and went into a trot.
“Springer isn’t as tall as Judge but he’s a tall guy and he can jump over there,” Gardner said. “We’ve seen him bring some back before. I was just trying to push it out a bit and thank goodness it went out.”
Gardner did not have a good April and was batting just .198 with a .578 OPS after play May 8. Even while that was going on, his more productive teammates praised how he was working pitchers through long at-bats.
It’s been a torrid few weeks since then, including Tuesday’s 4-for-5 performance that started with a homer to lead off the Yankees’ first. Gardner is batting .373 in his last 15 games with a 1.200 OPS. He has 12 runs scored, three homers and eight RBIs in that stretch.
“You’ve got to be on time. You’ve got to be ready to hit and have good timing and a good swing,” Gardner said of turning around the 97-mph fastball from Devenski. “When I get in a little funk and I am struggling, my timing is a little off . . . It’s all about timing and rhythm and I’ve been on time. I’m taking good swings in the zone.”
“I felt all along that he was close,” manager Aaron Boone said of Gardner’s poor start. “Some of the balls he was hitting well, he was hitting on the ground a little too much. But I don’t think a lot has changed except he’s finding some holes now. He’s starting to impact the ball. We’ve seen more extra-base hits from him.
“But the at-bat quality, I think it’s been there all along. So I just felt with him it was a matter of time based on what we were seeing.”
Gardner’s batting average is up to .256 and his OPS is at .741.
CC Sabathia’s words about Gardner may best explain why, even when he was struggling, so many felt he was contributing: “He makes this team go.”
“When he’s on,” Sabathia added, “you’re going to see this lineup scoring a lot of runs.”