Who would have thought that the ejection of hot-hitting Johnny Damon in the 3rd inning of Friday night's game would be exactly what the Yankees needed to stage an improbable comeback against Minnesota?
Brett Gardner was tasked with replacing the red hot Damon and came up big almost instantaneously with an inside-the-park home run to put the Yankees on the board in the 5th. It was the first inside-the-park home run for a Yankee since Ricky Ledee legged one out in 1999.
Phil Hughes departed after 5 laborious (but gutty) innings trailing 3-1. The Yankees were down 4-1 when Derek Jeter delivered a solo shot in the 7th to cut the lead in half.
Cue the 9th inning dramatics.
Brett Gardner got things going once again with a triple to lead off the 9th. It is a testament to Gardner's speed that he was able to make it to 3rd given the fact that he wiped out rounding 1st and still managed to make it with relative ease. Mark Teixeira then stroked a single through the right side of the infield and drove in Gardner, making it 4-3 Minnesota.
Despite home plate umpire Wally Bell's best efforts to ring him up, Alex Rodriguez worked a walk. Twins' closer Joe Nathan proceeded to strike out Hideki Matsui and Justin Morneau (who hit two home runs on his 28th birthday) robbed Nick Swisher of a hit. Ramiro Pena came in to run for A-Rod and the Yankees had runners on second and third with two outs. With first base open, Nathan opted to take his chances with the on-deck batter and intentionally walked Robinson Cano to work to Melky Cabrera. Melky swung at the first pitch and lined a two-run single into left-center field, providing his team with an exciting walk-off victory (the second walk-off hit Melky's delivered already this season).
The Yankees find themselves back over the .500 mark at 18-17 and kept pace with Toronto, remaining 4.5 back in the division. Joba Chamberlain and Nick Blackburn will square off for Saturday's afternoon affair at the Stadium.
And for those of you interested, there is a really nice story behind Gardner's (unconventional) home run.
Read about it here. (Courtesy of Sean Brennan of the New York Daily News)
I worked an autograph signing with Brett Gardner back in October and can certainly attest to the fact that he is a good guy and easy to root for. I've made no secret of my feelings about Gardner as an everyday player, but that doesn't mean I'm not pulling for the guy!