Results tagged ‘ Brett Gardner ’

Waiting: The hardest part

rivera250.jpgBy Jon Lane
Since the Yankees opened the Division Series battle against the Twins on October 7, they’ve had eight days off over the past 17 days – 20 if you include the time between their regular-season finale and Game 1 of the ALDS.

Thanks to Mother Nature, make that nine. For one of the rare times this month, the forecast for rain was correct, baseball’s luck with the weather ran out and Game 6 of the ALCS was postponed until 8:20 Sunday night at Yankee Stadium.

Andy Pettitte will remain Joe Girardi’s starter; the manager resisted the temptation to go for the kill and start CC Sabathia on normal rest to have him ready if there’s a Game 7.

“Who else would you want for a Game 7 if there is a Game 7?” Pettitte said. “I never thought they would not throw me tomorrow.”

Physically, Pettitte admitted that his body has appreciated the extra rest. Since the Yankees skipped one of his starts in mid-September due to shoulder fatigue, he’s been allotted an extra day’s rest between starts. As an younger player, Pettitte said that would set him back, but because he’s 37 years old, he admitted it’s “probably great for me.”

That didn’t mean he was happy with the rainout, however,

“The worst part of it is just the wait,” Pettitte said. “This was the longest day ever. You realize it’s a rainout – get ready to do it tomorrow – but it’s just frustrating from the standpoint it’s just such a long day, when you’re so ready and so anxious to get the game going.”

As I noted earlier, minutes before the game was called, MLB officials were conferring with
Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland. The look on his face essentially
said there was no way he was having Pettitte warm up. Furthermore, last thing the manager or pitching coach on both sides wanted was their starters to have to start the game, stop due to a delay and fire it up again if the game were to be resumed.

“I don’t think any of us are exactly sure when the rain is going to get out of here, how late it’s going to be, so I respect the decision that they made,” Girardi said. “I’m sure both clubs would have loved to have played. The weather is not permitting.”

“If it’s good enough to play a game, I think any ball team wants to — if you’re going to start a game, just have a fair amount of confidence you’re going to be able to finish it, and not have it be so disjointed and segmented because of weather,” agreed Angels skipper Mike Scioscia.

Besides the pitchers, everyone is affected playing in the slop and mud, no matter how state-of-the-art Yankee Stadium’s drainage system is compared to the building across the street.

“You don’t want anybody to get hurt,” said Mariano Rivera. “It’s bad weather out there. Waiting another day isn’t going to kill us.”

_______________________

Good line from Jerry Hairston: He and Mark Teixeira were discussing the inordinate amount of off days while in the indoor batting cages when, according to Hairston, Teixeira told him, “I have a new respect for utility players.”

“I just started laughing,” Hairston said. “I said why don’t you give me
part of that [pay check] you got there.”

Teixeira is in the first year of an eight-year contract that’s paying him $180 million. Hairston re-signed with the Reds for one year and $2 million in January and was acquired by the Yankees at the non-waiver trade deadline. Mother Nature, though, doesn’t discriminate between the rich and the filthy, dirty rich.

“That’s the life of a baseball
player,” Hairston said. “You’re going to have your rain outs, but we don’t make excuses.
You have to go out and play.”

_______________________

Game 7 is “if necessary,” but the media could not help asking about a potential Game 7. This was supposed to be A.J. Burnett’s day to throw a side session, but he
did not. The thinking was to ensure he’d be available for long relief or
if it’s all hands on deck in an elimination game. Burnett said he’d be ready in an emergency for both Games 6 and 7.

“If I need to come out and help, I’ll be ready,” Burnett said. “I’ll be ready for anything.”

Scioscia was asked about it, but did not confirm yet another one of those worst-kept secrets. If the Angels win Game 6, John Lackey is starting Game 7. Bet on it.

“If there was a seven, Lackey’s going to pitch,” Hairston said, mockingly. “They can say no, no … if you look at John’s reaction getting taken out of [Game 5], you think he’s a man that he’s not going to pitch a Game 7. They can sugarcoat it, but we’re concerned about Game 6 and we’re trying to win that game.”

_______________________

Scioscia was asked if he’s in favor of the added off day built in this week. In a word, no.

“Taking us almost 20 days to play eight games, I think that’s the wrong template for baseball,” Scioscia said.

swisher250.jpgOne person not complaining is Nick Swisher, 3-for-29 with 10 strikeouts in the postseason and who popped up Brian Fuentes’ 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded to end Game 5.

“You hear a lot of guys who say, ‘Man I wish we didn’t have all these
off days,’ but then again if you have bangs and bumps, and this and
that, it’s nice to have another day off,” Swisher said.

Swisher remained Girardi’s starter in right field and the manager doesn’t anticipate any changes tomorrow night. Swisher has taken advantage of the down time by working extra hard with hitting coach Kevin Long. A player fueled by emotion, Swisher was texted something once said by Babe Ruth:

“It’s hard to beat up a guy who never
quits. It’s going to turn, it’s got to. You have to have a positive
attitude about it.”

Girardi stuck with Johnny Damon after a 1-for-12 Division Series. He’s doing the same with Swisher despite considering inserting Brett Gardner in center field and shifting Melky Cabrera over to right.

“It’s amazing,” Swisher said. “Skip’s such a great guy. He’s the best manager I’ve ever played for, no doubt. You have to keep battling and keep grinding.

“I never lost any confidence. I’m frustrated, but Skip has faith in me and my teammates do. I just turn it up, strap it on a little tighter. I had a run like this during the regular season and no one seemed to care. But it’s at that point now when it’s on the biggest stage. You want to go out there and do sooo well. Maybe I’m just pressing a bit too much.

“Skip told me the other day, ‘Be yourself. You had a great year, just keep doing the things you’re normally used to doing.’ I’ll be ready to go tonight when I go to sleep. I’ll be ready to go tomorrow when I wake up and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

_______________________

As I wrap up blogging for the evening, it’s 8:02, five minutes after what would have been first pitch. It’s raining and raining hard. Unless Major League Baseball wanted to wait and play at midnight, there was no way this game was being played. MLB made the right decision to benefit both the players and the fans.

Talk to y’all tomorrow.

Game 6 topics

By Jon Lane
Why didn’t Joe Girardi go to the bullpen to start the seventh inning?
Damned
if you do, damned if you don’t. Girardi’s been an easy target whenever
things have gone wrong, but I didn’t kill him for sending A.J. Burnett
back in despite sitting for about a half hour. After all, he kept the
Yankees in the game and had thrown just 80 pitches. That said, I would have gave him the hook after that leadoff walk.
You have a rested bullpen that you’ve maximized to the fullest this
whole postseason. That was the ideal time to use it. Furthermore,
certain guys are better served by starting innings (read: Phil Hughes).

What has happened to Nick Swisher? Will he be in Saturday’s starting lineup?
Three
hits in 29 at-bats with 10 strikeouts, making two outs in that sixth
inning and popping up a game-deciding 3-2 pitch. Logic says bench him,
but I doubt Girardi will do that with the Angels throwing left-hander
Joe Saunders and the alternative, Brett Gardner, a lefty hitter. But
memo to a manager who manages by the numbers: Swisher is 1-for-6 with
two RBIs against Saunders this year and 5-21, 6 RBIs lifetime. Right
now, when it matters, he’s lost. Saunders has never faced Gardner and
the element of surprise works in the latter’s favor. Furthermore,
batting Gardner ninth with Derek Jeter leading off gives you a nice
look and tightens the outfield defense. I’d do it.

Why doesn’t David Robertson have a bigger role out of the bullpen?

I
have no idea. Robertson’s pitched three scoreless innings in the
postseason, none bigger than Game 2 in the Division Series. This is
where Girardi has to put the binder away and go with his gut. If
Robertson has his best stuff, nobody is hitting him, not Jeff Mathis,
Vlad Guerrerro, Kendry Morales, nobody.

If Saturday brings a rainout and the Angels win Game 6, will John Lackey start Game 7 on three days’ rest?
Duh.

Will it actually rain Saturday night?
Here’s the forecast,
but don’t cancel your plans yet. Thursday’s YES Network Toyota Text
Poll presented a great question on who has had the worst performance
this postseason: Baserunners, closers, umpires or meteorologists. Maybe
Mother Nature will provide one more reprieve. If not, Game 6 and (if necessary) Game 7 will be played Sunday and Monday, respectively.

P.S. I hate rain.

Fire Girardi if the Yankees lose the series?
Jesse Spector of The New York Daily News got ahead of himself with this column,
but prefaced it so it’s not a reactionary thing. There’s no doubt
Girardi has made some really strange decisions this postseason, but
he’s not managing in the crazy 1970s and ’80s either. Unless the
Yankees completely spit the bit these next two games, he comes back
next season win or lose.

Do the Yankees need an answer to the Rally Monkey?
Steven Goldman thinks so: King Kong.
They do have that Rocky II montage, yet a team with 15 walk-off wins
finds a way to get it done without any gimmicks. Swisher has said it
many times: The Yankees feed off the energy of their fans and that
energy has done wonders.

Who will win Game 6?
Yankees.
I had Yankees in six from the get-go. Andy Pettitte, for the umpteenth
time, proves his mettle and the Yankees go ahead for good in the
seventh … on a clutch pinch-hit by Swishlicious.

Game 1 ALCS: Live blog

jeter_275_101609.jpgBy Jon Lane
Not
raining (yet), but it’s windy and cold; I feel like I’m Canada. But the
bunting is draped, and a couple of Yankees are playing catch on the
infield. One of them is Alex Rodriguez, who is now taking fungo
grounders at third base.

Joe Girardi just met the media and A.J.
Burnett is chatting about the Angels and his Game 2 start. I’ll have
briefs from Girardi and Burnett, as well as Angels manager Mike
Scioscia and Saturday’s Halos starter, Joe Saunders, before first pitch.

There’s
already a buzz and the gates are opening in mere minutes. Memo to rain:
You’re not invited. Go away and stay away until Sunday.

No surprises in the Yankees’ lineup.
Johnny Damon is in left field with Melky Cabrera in center. Damon comes
off a 1-for-12 performance in the Division Series. You wonder if he
can’t get it going, or especially the Yankees are on the losing end
tonight, whether Girardi will replace Damon for Brett Gardner in Game 2.

Stick
around for much more from yours truly, and our multimedia team of Chris
Shearn and Joe Auriemma. I have a hunch there will be baseball tonight,
the first of many wars of attrition between these two clubs that both
can make the “team of destiny” claim.

5:20 p.m. Joe and
Chris are on the field working pregame. Chris did an interview with
Brett Gardner for a Stadium Spotlight that will be posted later.
Gardner, like everyone, was asked about this December weather. In
essence he said this is New York weather and this is what you have to
deal with at this time of year if you want to still be playing baseball.

Tony
Pena had to attend to business, but spent a few minutes talking off
camera. He lamented that it was 97 degrees today in his native
Dominican Republic, but added “When you play this time of year, you
have to play in this.”

Before I headed back inside I felt the
slightest of raindrops. No steady showers yet. Here’s hoping the rain
received my you’re-not-invited memo.

From there I stopped by the
Hard Rock Cafe. Three hours before first pitch and you could barely get
around the circle bar. Yankees fan Greg Parker was seated in a
tableless chair in the back of the restaurant. I asked him who do have
winning and why. “Yankees in 6 – because this is New York and they’ve
won 26 World Championships.” Sometimes “expert” analysis isn’t
necessary. The simplest explanations are the best.

5:42 p.m. Highlights from A.J. Burnett’s and Joe Girardi’s pregame breifing with the media:

Burnett
On fitting in this season whereas past newcomers have struggled to get acclimated early:
“The
pies aside, I’m a pretty quiet individual during the game and stuff,
aoft spoken guy. I don’t know, it just didn’t matter really who I met
or who I ran into. I just joked with them from the get go and getting
on them from the get go. It’s not hard to blend in with guys like this.
It’s a good group. The main thing is you can be yourself there in that
clubhouse. I think that’s what a lot of people have learned this year
is that they can be themselves.”

On having more of a comfort level pitching in the postseason after his debut last Friday:
“I
know a little what to expect, crowd-wise and everything. It’s still
going to be a crazy and exciting and emotional game. By all means I
know how important my start is. I have the least amount of postseason
experience, but I’m looking forward to it. We’re going to hopefully get
this win in tonight and follow CC. He’s going to come out with a bang.”

Girardi
On why Nick Swisher [5-for-43 lifetime against John Lackey and 1-for-12 in the ALDS] is in the lineup:
“We
watched his at bats. Sometimes when you give a guy a day off, you look
to give him a day off against a guy that maybe he struggled against a
little bit. But we watched his at bats the last couple of years, and
he’s hit some balls really hard. He does see pitches on John Lackey,
which is extremely important. And that’s why he’s in there.”

On whether it’d be better if the regular season is shortened and if off days added into the postseason are unnecessary:
“It’s
interesting. Every year that I had a chance to play in the playoffs
here, the weather was great. So I don’t remember having a day like
this. I mean, this is what baseball is. It’s a 162-game schedule. It’s
a grind, you know, if you shorten it by six games, the way it used to
be, well then you fall into this is the World Series week, and the
weather is not so good right now. It wasn’t great in Colorado. You
know, I don’t know what you do. You pray that Mother Nature blesses you
this time of the year and sometimes it doesn’t.”

5:48 p.m. Latest from Weather.com – 10 percent chance of rain by 8 p.m. and 20 percent by 9. This is down from 60 percent this morning.

stadium_350_101609.jpg7:13 p.m. Some tidbits gathered while killing time:

The elevator to the press box has been down for the last couple of hours. The long and frequent hikes make for good exercise.

Thinking
about stopping by the Hard Rock? Prepare to wait. There are lines to
get in and for a table, at least a couple of hours from what I was told.

Pedro Martinez allowed two hits over seven shutout innings
during Game 2 in Los Angeles, but was stuck with a no-decision. Many
here watching, including yours truly and Yahoo! Sports’ Gordon Edes,
who covered Pedro in Boston for years, believe he’s the best pitcher of
this generation. The Dodgers took a 2-1 lead on Andre Ethier’s
bases-loaded walk in the eighth and Jonathan Broxton closed the deal to
even the NLCS at 1-1.

7:49 p.m. The national anthem was just played and I see sprinkles. So much for a future as an amateur weatherman.

Meanwhile,
props to readers checking in from Hawaii and Regina, Saskatchewan.
(Yes, I know of the area. Years ago in Las Vegas I played blackjack
with two guys from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Once I brought up Bret
“Hitman” Hart winning his first WWF Heavyweight Championship there I
was in.)

Nice ovation for former Yankee and current YES analyst
David Cone, who threw out tonight’s first pitch. It was low, but
whatever.

Right now blaring over the Stadium sound system: AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You).

7:55 p.m. Facts & figures with a creative twist from Chris Shearn.

7:58 p.m. First pitch 7:58 (strike). Game time temperature is 45 degrees.

8:06 p.m.

Sabathia gets through the first allowing only a two-out single to Torii
Hunter, though he got a break from plate umpire and crew chief Tim
McClelland, who punched out Bobby Abreu on a backdoor curveball that
from the view of many here was way inside.

8:16 p.m.
Johnny Damon, 1-for-12 in the DS, singles to left field and advances to
second on the throw. Derek Jeter at third with Alex Rodriguez at the
plate after Mark Teixeira flied out to shallow left swinging at a 3-0
pitch. Lackey’s in trouble early, you can afford to be selective and
wait for something to drive.

8:21 p.m. These Yankees have been good and darn lucky. Hideki
Matsui popped up between short and third, except Erick Aybar and Chone Figgins, who called for it, looked at each other and said, “Do you want it?” Instead of an
inning-ending out, the ball dropped in front of Aybar and Damon scored
the Yankees’ second run. Good line from a writer seated to my right: “When did the Angels become the Twins?”

A-Rod’s sacrifice fly gives him seven postseason RBIs, one shy of his career-high eight set in 2004.

8:57 p.m.
The Amazing A-Rod now batting .462 in the postseason, but it was up to Matsui to make it count. Alas, a ground out to first ends the third. Matsui’s average has dipped to .182 (2-for-11).

9:24 p.m. 2-1 Yankees entering the fifth after Lackey whiffs Jeter with two on and two out. Both Lackey – incidentally wearing short sleeves – and Sabathia are showing why they’re not only good, but tough.

9:35 p.m. Damon is 2-for-3 tonight with a double. Now the Yankees have to cash in.

arod_200_101609.jpg9:45 p.m. Cha-ching! Matsui breaks his drought with an RBI double, but A-Rod is thrown out at home as he got aggressive upon seeing Juan Rivera lose his footing in left. Nice job by Jeff Mathis to survive the collision, but a 3-1 lead is pretty good the way Sabathia is working.

Lackey has thrown 96 pitches.

9:54 p.m. Nice sliding grab by Damon to rob Abreu of a leadoff single. The next pitch Hunter tried bunting his way on but Teixeira stretched to snare Sabathia’s throw at first base. Scioscia is arguing passionately with Laz Diaz, claiming Texieira’s toe came off the bag when the ball met his glove. Even if there was instant replay in baseball, that would be one of those inconclusive plays wouldn’t be overturned.

Sabathia, who has taken over this game, fans Guerrero to end the top of the sixth. He’s retired seven in a row and has thrown 80 pitches.

Metro NY’s Larry Fleischer with a good observation: For the first time in a long time, the Yankees are winning a playoff game with pitching and defense.

10:05 p.m. The Los Angeles Twins of Anaheim give away another run. After Cabrera moved to second on Lackey’s throwing error, Jeter singled him home and advanced to second on Hunter’s error. Lackey’s night is done. He battled, but I’m very surprised on what I’m seeing from what’s normally one of the most fundamentally sound teams in baseball.

From Larry the stat guru: Tonight is the first time the Angels were charged with three errors in a postseason game since Game 2 of the 2005 ALCS, also the only time this has happened in the Scioscia Era.

10:16 p.m. Robinson Cano, ski mask and all, robs Howie Kendrick of a hit that would have put Angels on first and third with one out. Pitching + defense = playoff victories.

sabathia_200_101609.jpg10:21 p.m. Sabathia has worked seven, breaking his postseason high set just last Wednesday (6 2/3 IP). His seven strikeouts are one short of his high also set last Wednesday.

10:45 p.m. Sabathia (98 pitches) out to start the eighth and nobody warming in the bullpen. Could he go the distance? *Alas, soon as I hit save Phil Hughes started throwing.

10:54 p.m. Sabathia works a clean eighth and at 113 pitches it looks like Girardi will go to Mo in the ninth. Tremendous performance by the big lefty; 49,688 people were chanting “CC! CC!” And this comment from Girardi before the game was appropriate:

“CC is one of those guys that’s relaxed on the day he pitches. And I admire that.”

11:08 p.m. Exit Sabathia. Enter Sandman. A perfect blueprint.And FYI, Brett Gardner in center and Cabrera moves to left. Assuming Rivera is Rivera, I’ll check back with you after working the clubhouse.

Yankees ALCS roster

By Jon Lane
Freddy Guzman in for Eric Hinske. Francisco Cervelli and Damaso Marte stick around.

“If Gardy [Brett Gardner] gets a start, then you don’t have a pinch runner (without Guzman),” said Joe Girardi. “It just frees us up to do some more things.”

Could Girardi start Gardner in Game 2 if Johnny Damon continues to struggle?

Position players (14)
Derek Jeter
Johnny Damon
Mark Teixeira
Alex Rodriguez
Jorge Posada
Hideki Matsui
Robinson Cano
Nick Swisher
Melky Cabrera
Brett Gardner
Jerry Hairston Jr.
Jose Molina
Freddy Guzman
Francisco Cervelli

Pitchers (11)
CC Sabathia
A.J. Burnett
Andy Pettitte
Mariano Rivera
Phil Hughes
David Robertson
Damaso Marte
Phil Coke
Alfredo Aceves
Joba Chamberlain
Chad Gaudin

Live in the moment

By Jon Lane
Nothing like an inning of work to change perceptions yet again. Joba Chamberlain threw a scoreless inning – of relief – on Sunday, needing only seven pitches (five strikes) to retire the side in order while hitting 95 on Tropicana Field’s gun. Of course, that has the Loyal Order of Joba to the Bullpen firing the cannons.

I’m not complaining. A good debate, even one with the legs of a marathon runner, keeps the comments and message boards thread lit up, which is good for us! My take though is forget about Chamberlain’s future for this week and the rest of this month. The Yankees’ solitary goal is first winning the American League Division Series. If right now he’s most comfortable and productive throwing out of the bullpen, put him there and worry about this starter-reliever stuff all winter and into next spring.

The Yankees’ will announce their ALDS roster no later than tomorrow. Every indication has Francisco Cervelli making it as the third catcher, insurance in the event Freddy Guzman runs for Jorge Posada and subsequently Jose Molina suffers an injury. That means the Yankees will carry 10 pitchers. If Chamberlain makes the cut, Chad Gaudin and Brian Bruney are out.

Here’s how the roster will stack up with 10 pitchers and 15 position players:

IN (15)
Position players

Derek Jeter
Johnny Damon
Mark Teixeira
Alex Rodriguez
Jorge Posada
Hideki Matsui
Robinson Cano
Nick Swisher
Melky Cabrera
Brett Gardner
Jerry Hairston Jr.
Jose Molina
Freddy Guzman
Eric Hinske
Francisco Cervelli

Pitchers (10)
CC Sabathia
A.J. Burnett
Andy Pettitte
Mariano Rivera
Phil Hughes
David Robertson
Damaso Marte
Phil Coke
Alfredo Aceves
Joba Chamberlain

There are those who favor Ramiro Pena over Guzman. Understandable, but Hairston fills the utility role and brings more experience. Plus, Guzman will be deployed solely as a pinch runner. That extra element of speed is extremely important. The Yankees have a weapon in Brett Gardner, but bottom of the eighth or ninth and Jorge Posada in scoring position, you’re taking him out for Guzman, the only player who’d keep up with Gardner stride for stride.

The Pulse of New York

Every Tuesday, YES Blog takes the pulse of New York on the hottest
topics being talked about right now in the world of sports. What’s your
take on the below issues?

Who would you feel most comfortable with starting a game in the post season?(surveys)

Who would you like to see as the Yankees’ starting right fielder in 2010?(polling)

Who is the American League MVP?(online surveys)

Where will Brett Gardner be most valuable in the post season?(survey software)

Which American League team would you most fear facing in the post season?(survey software)

Who will win the American League Central?(survey)

The art of the comeback

yankees_500_091709.jpgBy Jon Lane
The Yankees have rallied to win games 48 times this season, 14 via the walk-off hit, the team’s most since doing it 17 times in 1943. Joe Girardi feels that belief system was born during the memorable May series against the Twins, when three of the first four games were won on the Yankees’ final at-bat.

“I think there’s that feeling that you can always do it, because we’ve done it so many times,” Girardi said. “When guys have confidence, they’re different players. There’s no doubt about it. When you have success in situations, guys learn how to relax. The more success you have, the more you relax. That’s what allows guys to do that.”

Brett Gardner – that X-Factor – was once again in the middle of it. Not since Homer Bush in 1998 have the Yankees been able to deploy such a weapon.

“It’s just another way that you know you can win a game,” Girardi said. “It’s a great element to have as a manager. In these close games there’s always a spot where you look for him to be able to do it.”

Good for Francisco Cervelli. It’s not hard to remember how a third-string catcher named Francisco has come a long way, writes Tyler Kepner.

Good for Ian Kennedy, a good guy who’s had some tough luck and is coming back from surgery to remove an aneurysm. Kennedy pitched three perfect innings for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre against Durham in the International League finals Wednesday, striking out six.

Gardner could be the X-Factor

roberts_275_091509.jpgBy Jon Lane
If you’re a Yankees fan, Dave Roberts still gives you nightmares. You remember, right? Game 4, 2004 ALCS, the Yankees three Mariano Rivera outs from sweeping the Red Sox on their turf and going to the World Series. Alas, Rivera walked leadoff hitter Kevin Millar, Roberts entered as a pinch-runner, stole second base, scored the tying run and a few things happened along the way ….

Despite subsequent seasons brimming with optimism and marked by late-season surges, the Yankees haven’t sniffed the World Series since and is one year removed from missing the postseason party entirely. That won’t happen this time – their magic number for clinching the AL East is 12 and a playoff spot a mere seven – but depending how the Yankees perform in the postseason, the 2009 season will be looked back as either one for the ages or a wholly disappointing, complete and downright disaster. That ’04 team won 101 games, but bring up that season and you’ll hear sob stories about Roberts, David Ortiz, Tom Gordon, Curt Schilling, Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez. In the Bronx, like it or not, fair or unfair, it’s win or else.

One reason why confidence is high this year will be different: The Yankees have their version of Roberts, Brett Gardner. Peter Abraham, author of the popular LoHud Yankees Blog, created the moniker “Gritty, Gutty Brett Gardner.” I look at him as a hot sparkplug, one that provides the speed and intangibles that wins many battles before their fought.

Take Monday night, when Gardner broke the Angels’ backs in the Yankees’ 5-3 win at Yankee Stadium, scoring the winning run on a double steal and a throwing error. It started with a bold decision by Joe Girardi, the type of gut-and-conscience tugging choice you need to make in the playoffs, when he pinch-ran Gardner for Mark Teixeira.

You read that correctly: Mark Teixeira, a top contender for AL MVP who was 3-for-4 and a home run from the cycle. Millar was far from MVP material in ’04, but still wielded a big stick (.297-18-74) and Terry Francona removed him with the season on the line, again a choice that must be made in October.

gardner_275_091509.jpgGirardi was aware the Angels are in striking distance for homefield advantage with three games still to play next week out west. He also knew that Gardner on the bases plants bugs in the respective minds of a battery. A pitcher looks over his shoulder like he’s being chased. A catcher is already thinking what if Gardner runs. And when Gardner took off for third, Mike Napoli was affected, so was third baseman Chone Figgins, who was playing off the line and could not corral Napoli’s low throw, one that skipped into left field and allowed Gardner to score.

The Angels seem to bring out some finesse in the Bronx Bombers, writes John Harper. For one night they brought out their best. The Yankees are six games ahead of a team that owns a 32-17 regular season record and two ALDS series wins against them. The last time the Yankees were in Anaheim, they were swept in the final three games (July 10-12) before the All-Star break. All they’ve done since is go 42-15, and now with Gardner and perhaps Freddy Guzman, they may finally have that edge.

Early September subplots

By Jon Lane
The Yankees aren’t clinching the AL East this week, their magic number is 16, though the way they’re playing the question has become not if, but when. Yes, I’ve written in this space that stranger things have happened, it’s not over until it’s over, blah, blah, blah. But to win 100 games minimum, they’d have to go 11-12. At 89 wins the Yankees have already matched their win total from last season and their division lead is a season-high nine games, I doubt very seriously we’ll see a Flushing-like choke job.

Storylines and subplots will be changing, but here’s what’s going on right now:

? That Red Sox-Yankees series September 25-27 at this rate will be relegated to playing for pride – unless the magic number isn’t at zero by then.

? More importantly, New York leads the L.A. Angels by six games in the race for the league’s best record, which means homefield advantage throughout the postseason.

? The Yankees pounded Rays pitching for 24 hits in their two-game sweep yesterday – but not one came from Derek Jeter. At 2,718 hits, Jeter remains three away from Lou Gehrig’s franchise record. He’s faced tonight’s starter, David Price, twice and walked once. The Rays start Jeff Niemann Wednesday night, who allowed a double to Jeter the first and only time he’s pitched to the Captain.

? Jeter did reach another milestone. He played in his 2,117th game as a Yankee to pass Yogi Berra for third all-time.

? One more race to watch: Carlos Pena is out for the season with a fractured index and middle finger. He finished with 39 home runs, which leaves Mark Teixeira (35) in pursuit. Jeter, Teixeira and Joe Mauer make for a nice MVP debate, but what about Mariano Rivera? He’s 1-2 with a 1.75 ERA and returned from groin stiffness to earn his 34th straight save in Game 1. You can make a serious case that Rivera is the Yankees’ most indispensable player. That’s serious value in my book.

? He said it: “It’s great to have Gardy back – the fastest white man in America.”

– Nick Swisher.

It was good to see the Bronx’s version of Brett the Jet back with the Yankees. Brett Gardner raced to Swisher’s territory in right field to rob Fernando Perez with a tremendous running catch. Gardner will provide Melky Cabrera a much-needed blow and that lightning-like speed that will be critical come the postseason.

Odds and ends

By Jon Lane
Odds and ends in the midst of the Yankees’ road trip:

? In an uproar over Brett Tomko shutting down the Yankees Monday night? Once he reverts to form, nobody will be playing hindsight 20-20 over why Tomko wasn’t given a shot at being their fifth starter.

? A.J. Burnett drives you nuts at times, but he’s been clutch and accountable. During the fateful fourth inning – he balked in the second of Oakland’s three runs that left he and Jorge Posada discussing mixed signals – Burnett refused to put any blame on Posada, despite this being the second straight start the two had similar issues.

“We’ve been using the same signs all year. It’s just a matter of me not seeing it, or seeing something different,” Burnett said. “There’s really nothing to correct. We’ve been doing wonderful, but two games in a row, I’ve crossed him up. I don’t know who’s fault it was tonight, but I’m pretty sure it was mine.

“Don’t do it again,” he added. “Pay more attention, I guess. Not be an idiot.”

That’s more than what I can say about Randy Johnson during his time here. And honestly, why would anyone want someone other than Posada as the Yankees’ everyday catcher? I’m dying for an explanation.

? Brett Gardner will see a doctor Wednesday and if cleared will begin a rehab assignment, reports Peter Abraham. Melky Cabrera is buckling under the pressure of playing every day. He’s six for his last 52 and his batting average has plummeted 21 points since Gardner was disabled July 26. The duo has been an effective tandem, giving each other a blow and providing different elements to the game. The Yankees have also missed Gardner’s breakneck speed and grit, crucial components to a stretch run.