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Brett Gardner's big night in Yankees' Game 1 victory makes Aaron Boone's hunch correct one

Yankees' Brett Gardner (11) is congratulated by Kyle

Yankees' Brett Gardner (11) is congratulated by Kyle Higashioka, left, and Gleyber Torres after hitting a two run home run in the seventh inning of Game 1 of an American League wild-card baseball series against Cleveland, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Cleveland.  Credit: AP/David Dermer

Aaron Boone’s toughest lineup decision before Game 1 of the AL wild-card series wasn’t replacing Gary Sanchez with Kyle Higashioka behind the plate. That call was made days, maybe weeks ago, so Higashioka could pair with Gerrit Cole.

No, Boone said his toughest call for Tuesday’s series opener was starting Brett Gardner over Clint Frazier in leftfield.

Boone’s hunch that Gardner would be a better option in Game 1 paid off big time as the veteran went 3-for-5 with a home run, double and three RBIs in the Yankees’ 12-3 victory over Cleveland at Progressive Field.

"Top to bottom," Gardner said, "I thought it was a great group effort."

 

The decision to start Gardner over Frazier could also be an example of recency bias in action. Frazier had one hit in his last 20 at-bats; Gardner hit 10-for-26 (.385) over his last nine games.

"I always expect to be out there," Gardner said. "I always prepare as if I’m going to be out there. I had a good idea \[Monday\] night before I went to bed that I would be in there."

With the Yankees leading 3-1 in the fourth against prospective AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber, Gardner smacked an RBI double one hop to the left-centerfield wall to drive in Gleyber Torres, who had walked.

"I’m just proud of the way our guys came out," Gardner said. "Just good at-bat after good at-bat. Making a really good pitcher work and trying to get ahead and stringing good at-bats together. It was really good to see."

In the bottom of the seventh, with the Yankees pouring it on against the Cleveland bullpen, Gardner hit a two-run homer to center off righthander Cam Hill to make it 11-2. It was Gardner’s third career postseason home run.

Gardner also singled in the ninth.

"Just really good at-bats," Boone said. "Obviously, a homer out the front door to really pad the lead. Just felt like his double at the time to give us another run and pad the lead a little bit seemed huge. Just a great night by Gardy. Really happy for him."

Gardner got the nod to add a lefthanded bat to the Yankees’ right-leaning lineup and also as the superior defensive player in Progressive Field’s spacious and quirky leftfield.

With righthander Carlos Carrasco scheduled to start for Cleveland in Game 2, the only surprise would be if Gardner didn’t start again on Wednesday. Something tell us this time it won’t be a tough call.

"Obviously, excited about being in the lineup, excited about some of the swings I took tonight," Gardner said. "It’s important for us to come out and do the same thing tomorrow."

Happ for Game 3?

]Boone said he is leaning toward starting J.A. Happ in a potential Game 3 over rookie Deivi Garcia.

"Looking like it’ll be Happ," Boone said. "We’re a long ways away and a lot of things that can happen between now and then. Not necessarily committing to anything. But if everything stays kind of on plan, it would probably be J.A. Happ."

Clint Frazier came a long way this season. But he didn’t make it into the lineup for Game 1 of the AL wild-card series in Cleveland on Tuesday.

Manager Aaron Boone announced that Brett Gardner would start in left against Cleveland righthander Shane Bieber. Gardner got the nod to add a lefthanded bat to the Yankees’ right-leaning lineup and also as the superior defensive player in Progressive Field’s spacious and quirky leftfield.

Boone also said he was leaning toward starting lefthander J.A. Happ over rookie Deivi Garcia in a potential Game 3 of the best-of-three series.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Yankees released their 28-man roster. It included 13 pitchers, three catchers and lefthanded-swinging first baseman Mike Ford as the final position player over players such as Miguel Andujar and Thairo Estrada.

The decision to start Gardner over Frazier could also be an example of recency bias in action. Frazier had one hit in his last 20 at-bats; Gardner hit 10-for-26 (.385) over his last nine games.

"Something we discussed a lot. I’ve thought about here a lot over the last couple days about which way I wanted to go," Boone said. "Really feel good either way I would have gone. Just feel like the way I feel Gardy’s started to swing here over the last few weeks and down the stretch here and, obviously, what he brings defensively in this ballpark, and just to give a different look in there with all our righties against Bieber, to get at least a second lefty in there, a little bit of a different look, I just felt like that was the way, ultimately, I wanted to go."

Progressive Field has a unique structure in leftfield, with a 19-foot wall that can play like Boston’s Green Monster. While Frazier has improved defensively, on his best day he’s not as good as Gardner.

"The defense always factors into that decision because he’s an elite defender," Boone said of Gardner, who will be a free agent after the season. "As far as this place, obviously it’s the big wall out there. It’s a big left-centerfield as it moves toward centerfield. It’s a little unique in how it’s set up. But that wasn’t necessarily the overwhelming factor. It was something that was very close for me."

Happ getting the potential nod to start Game 3 on Thursday could indicate Boone plans to use the 21-year-old Garcia as a multi-inning weapon out the bullpen in the first two games.

"Looking like it’ll be Happ," Boone said. "We’re a long ways away and a lot of things that can happen between now and then. Not necessarily committing to anything. But if everything stays kind of on plan, it would probably be J.A. Happ."

As far as the roster, Boone said it was an easy decision to take three catchers (Gary Sanchez, Kyle Higashioka and Erik Kratz). Higashioka was paired with Gerrit Cole for Game 1 and it was unclear if Sanchez will get his starting job back in Wednesday’s Game 2.

One surprise was the addition of Ford, who hit .135 before being banished to the alternate site. But with rosters expanded from 25 in previous postseasons to 28, Boone and Co. had the luxury of adding another lefthanded bat.

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