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Hartnett: Yankees Spark Plug Brett Gardner Deserves His Due

'Old-School' Gardner Has Been Yankees' Most Valuable Everyday Player
Brett Gardner follows through on his ninth-inning game-winning home run against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium on August 11, 2013. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Brett Gardner follows through on his ninth-inning game-winning home run against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium on August 11, 2013. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

It’s time that Brett Gardner gets his proper due. He’s no longer a complementary piece in the Yankees’ lineup. 2013 has shown that Gardner is indeed a very valuable Yankee.

On Sunday, Gardner bailed out a snakebitten Mariano Rivera after the legendary closer blew a third straight save opportunity. Gardner’s ninth-inning walk-off homer exploded off his bat and into the right-field stands.

Stunned losing pitcher Jose Veras and the rest of the Detroit Tigers slowly walked off the Yankee Stadium diamond in disbelief. Gardner has had their number all series, as he stole two wins from the American League Central-leading Tigers.

It was almost as if Gardner pressed a magic repeat button. He saved Rivera’s blushes on Friday by delivering a seeing-eye walk-off single off Al Alburquerque in the 10th inning that halted New York’s four-game losing streak.

“Mo’s bailed us out a few times,” Gardner said. “It didn’t matter if it was me or somebody else, we just needed to get a win today and I’m glad we made it happen.”

The Yankees have a mountain to climb. Even with Sunday’s 5-4 win, they’re seven games behind the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays in the Wild Card hunt.

With only 46 games remaining in the regular season, every game is crucial for the Bombers. The Yankees can go one of two ways. They can fold up like an accordion and fall below .500, or catch fire and push hard for a Wild Card berth.

There have been very few constants the Yankees’ injury-ravaged 2013 campaign. Hiroki Kuroda has been by far the most consistent starter and most valuable Yankee. Outside of Kuroda’s dependable brilliance, the rotation has been a complete mess. David Robertson and Boone Logan have formed a reliable bullpen alliance, though wheels might be starting to fall off the mighty Rivera.

Robinson Cano has been a shadow of himself in his “walk year.” Cano is drawing a lot more walks, though his numbers are dipping in August. A .212 average through nine August games has seen his average plummet to .287.

Derek Jeter has only seen the field for five games, while Alex Rodriguez is an enormous question mark despite the homer he launched off Tigers ace Justin Verlander on Sunday.

Out of everyday players, Gardner has been the Yankees’ MVP in an unusual season.

GARDY BRINGING ‘OLD-SCHOOL’ HUSTLE

Gardner’s style of play is reminiscent of former Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon. While Gardner does not possess the pop of Damon, he does play every game with the reckless abandon and gritty edge that made Damon popular during his four-year stay in the Bronx.

He’ll knowingly run into a wall to make a catch as we saw on Sunday, when he robbed Torii Hunter in the bottom of the 8th. His outstanding range, athleticism and toughness makes Gardner one of the elite center fielders in all of baseball.

Another thing that makes Gardner unique is his ability to work pitchers. He rarely wastes a swing. Gardner has remarkably made contact with 89.4 percent of his swings over his career.

All of these attributes paired together with his lightning speed make Gardner one of the most efficient players in the majors. He’s doing a lot of heavy lifting for the injury-plagued Yankees. Perhaps he’ll inspire the Bombers to an improbable playoff push.

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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