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Gardner delivers walk-off hit to give Yanks much-needed win

Aug 16, 2008 - 11:45 PM BRONX, New York (Ticker) -- After a long afternoon of missed opportunities and questionable strategy, the struggling New York Yankees got a boost from an unlikely source.

Rookie Brett Gardner delivered an RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the 13th inning Saturday, lifting the Yankees to a 3-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals in a nearly five-hour marathon.

It was the second walk-off hit of the season for the light-hitting Gardner, who also had the game-winner with an infield single off Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon in the 10th inning of a 5-4 victory over the Red Sox on July 6.

Gardner batted .153 in his first 17-game stint with the Yankees, but his at-bat against Papelbon impressed Yankees manager Joe Girardi. He made a further impression by batting .339 in 14 games at Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

"They said he was swinging the bat well," Girardi said. "You look at Gardy's numbers and maybe they don't stick out as a guy getting a lot of base hits, but he does have eight RBI in limited opportunities, and he's got some big hits for us.

"He's got two walk-off hits already in his young career. He can do some things. He can create some havoc. So he's a kid that has ability. Obviously, he's young, too, but he works the count and he grinds out his at-bat."

Recalled on Friday when the slumping Melky Cabrera was sent down to the minors, Gardner will be the Yankees' every-day center fielder until further notice. He had three hits Saturday, raising his average to .176.

His winning hit in this one came after the Yankees had gone 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position. They did not score after loading the bases in the fourth with none out, and failed again in the eighth with one out.

"At this point, it doesn't make a difference how it looked," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "We needed the win."

The Yankees were 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position Friday and have batted .223 in those situations over the last 12 games. They have won just four of those contests and lost 4 1/2 games in the standings.

"It's not easy," Girardi said of his team's hitting woes. "Sometimes it looks easy, but it's really not easy. And the type of players that we have, sometimes they can make it easy. A lot of times it's just a fraction of a second that's an out.

"For a hitter, if you're a fraction ahead, you're a fraction behind, you miss a line by a quarter of an inch. There's so many things that have to be right for it to go right. If you're off a little bit, it's a struggle."

In the ninth, an odd move by Girardi backfired. With runners on first and second and none out, Girardi elected not to bunt with Johnny Damon, who struck out.

Jeter then grounded into an inning-ending double play.

The decision came a day after Damon failed to get down a bunt attempt in the ninth inning of a 4-3 loss. Girardi defended his decision by saying that Damon was not comfortable bunting after failing at it Friday.

While the Yankees' offense struggled, they received a superb performance from their bullpen as six relievers combined to allow just one hit in 6 2/3 innings. Rookie David Robertson (3-0) tossed the final two frames to record the win.

New York finally broke through in the 13th against Jeff Fulchino (0-1), who was making his first appearance since June 22.

Robinson Cano singled with out, advanced on Ivan Rodriguez's groundout and scored when Gardner slapped a single to left field. The hit came after he fell behind 0-2 and worked the count full.

Gardner was mobbed by his teammates afterward.

"Early in the count, I was just looking to get a good pitch to hit and put a barrel on it and hit it hard," he said. "I fouled off two fastballs in a row and got behind 0-2. He missed with a couple of fastballs, and when I got to 3-2, there was a pretty good chance."

New York (65-58), which began the day seven games behind the Boston Red Sox (71-51) in the wild card race, won for only the seventh time in its last 20 contests.

"This is a big win for us because we've been scuffling," Girardi said. "We've been scuffling to score runs. Maybe this is the game that we needed to get us back on that winning track and we can run a bunch off in a row."

Kansas City starter Zack Greinke blanked New York through six innings, allowing only four hits. But the Royals unraveled in the seventh, allowing the Yankees to erase a 2-0 deficit with a pair of unearned runs.

"Today was a matter of pitching very well," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "Offensively and defensively, we stunk. We didn't do the things offensively, execution-wise or approach-wise, that we needed to do and we wasted some great stuff by Zack Greinke."

Alex Rodriguez reached second on a pair of errors by third baseman Alex Gordon - one on a bobble and one on the throw. Three batters later, Cano ripped an RBI triple and scored the tying run on a wild pitch.

Yankees starter Sidney Ponson also pitched well, allowing a leadoff home run by Gordon in the second among seven hits in 6 1/3 innings. He also gave up a sacrifice fly by Esteban German in the sixth.

The Royals experienced the same offensive problems as the Yankees, but not as dramatic. They were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded two runners from the fifth through the seventh.

"It should have been a minimum of 4-0 if we were just patient," Hillman said. "The approach is very poor, the execution was poor and the defensive execution was poor.