In the first inning, Brett Gardner did exactly what he wanted to against Twins starter Ervin Santana. He worked the count, coaxed a walk and ignited a three-run rally that eradicated a 3-0 deficit that stunned the Yankee Stadium crowd.
Gardner went above and beyond in the second inning. He saw a 95-mph fastball buzz his tower that sent him sprawling. So he got back up and promptly sent a full-count fastball into the seats in right for his first career postseason homer. It temporarily gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead.
“I was pretty excited,” Gardner said after the Yankees went on to an 8-4 wild-card game victory over the Twins Tuesday, enabling them to advance to the ALDS against Cleveland. “To be able to jump back in the lead there in the second inning, I know it’s early in the game but any time we can give our bullpen the lead we feel good about our chances. And those guys did a great job.”
To put it mildly. The Yankees bullpen got 26 outs. But that’s another story.
And so was Gardner’s first inning at-bat.
The Yankees were down 3-0 as Luis Severino turned into a batting-practice pitcher and got just one out while yielding three runs. But to the Yankees, three runs down can be an annoyance.
“I’m leading off in the bottom of the first, so I don’t have much time to stop and talk,” Gardner said about the dugout mood. “Just keep up the enthusiasm, stay optimistic, know we have a lot of game left and we have a lot of guys in the lineup that do a good job of getting on base and seeing pitches and driving up Santana’s pitch count.”
And that would include Gardner who got the first of eight full counts the Yankees managed against Santana. Impressive, considering Santana faced just 11 batters. He threw 42 pitches in the first inning.
“It was important. He fell behind on me and that made my job a little easier but that was my goal was to get up there, get on the plate and make him throw strikes. Take a strike. Maybe even take two strikes and just really slow the game down,” Gardner said. “and try to get a run or two and get back in the game.”
But Gardner wasn’t done. After walking and scoring in the first, homering in the second, he singled and scored in the fourth. Not bad: three at-bats, three runs. On Monday, Gardner had proclaimed, “I do plan on winning the game.”
And on Tuesday, his actions more than backed up those words.