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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Confidence key for Gardner on bases


Early in the season, Yankees leftfielder Brett Gardner was slumping. His timing was off. He started to lose his confidence.

Then, like magic, Gardner found it. The other teams couldn't get him out. Not once in 22 tries.

We're not talking about hitting. We're talking about base-stealing.

Can a player go into a stealing slump just like a hitting slump? If you examine Gardner's season, the answer is yes.

Going into Saturday's games, Gardner was tied with Oakland's Coco Crisp for the American League lead in stolen bases with 37. Gardner had been thrown out 11 times for a 77 percent success rate.

Gardner's success rate has gone up ever since he was thrown out on six of his first 11 attempts. Then he did something no Yankee had done in a single season since all-time swipes leader Rickey Henderson in 1988.

On June 25, Gardner stole second base in the first inning against the Rockies. It started a streak of 22 in a row that didn't end until Aug. 11.

So what happened? He didn't get faster. It wasn't the shoes. He just found . . . . it.

Through hard work, Gardner re-discovered the right way to go 90 feet before the throw. Twenty-two straight times.

So what was wrong before that?

"I can't put my finger on it," Gardner said. "Maybe a little bit of bad luck. Maybe I wasn't running 100 percent. Didn't have an injury or anything like that, but sometimes there's days and stretches where you don't feel great. Maybe that. Some bad decisions on my part, maybe."

OK, so what about when things are going well?

"Just like if you're 5-for-your-last-7 when you go up to the plate, you're going to have more confidence than if you're 2-for-your-last-15," he said. "I try and be aggressive and be prepared and do everything I can to put myself in a position to be successful at it."

Gardner works with coaches Rob Thomson and Mick Kelleher. They break down video of pitchers and catchers, work on Gardner's technique and talk about situations when it's good to go and good to stay put.

"It's just like anything else," said Thomson, the Yankees' third-base coach. "Most base-stealers are like that. If they get thrown out a couple times in a row, they start second-guessing themselves, lose a little bit of confidence. The one thing about Gardy right now is he's very confident. He's working hard at it. He watches a lot of video, does a lot of work with Mick. He does his homework. He's very good at what he does."

Thomson identified six basic steps in the quest to swipe a bag. The first three -- the pitcher's time in delivering the ball, the speed and type of pitch, and the catcher's time throwing to the base -- are pretty much out of the runner's control.

The last three (with Thomson's comments) are what separates the good thieves from the not-so good:

The lead: "Maintain the biggest lead you can possibly get and still get back to the base. So the perfect lead is really the pitcher gives his best move and you just get back."

First-step quickness: "That's really the key: The breakout. Using the upper body to clear and push off and get going.''

The slide: "It is important because you've got to accelerate into the slide. You've got to make sure you maintain your momentum and your speed and go right through it."

Gardner does all that. He's doing it better lately. But if he wants to beat last season's career high of 47 steals, he's going to have to stay in that zone -- or whatever it is he's in right now.

New York Sports