NEW YORK (AP) — Brett Gardner lined a slider from rookie Andrew Kittredge a half-dozen rows into the right-field seats leading off the 11th inning, circled the bases with his career-high 18th home run, rolled his helmet toward home plate and crossed with the winning run.
The Yankees went wild, so wild that rookie star Aaron Judge lost part of a tooth in the celebration.
“He’s too big to get hurt by something like that,” Gardner said after New York beat the Tampa Bay Rays 6-5 Thursday night. “I think he’ll be all right.”
Gardner sparked the tying rally with a leadoff triple in the ninth against Alex Colome and scored on a strange two-out single by Gary Sanchez.
With second baseman Tim Beckham shifted to the shortstop side of second, Sanchez hit a two-hopper between shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and Beckham. The two infielders looked at each other as the ball bounced into the outfield.
“They kind of, both of them, froze,” Sanchez said through a translator.
Hechavarria, acquired from Miami on June 26, put his hands on his hips and stared. He said through a translator that he wasn’t used to positioning himself that far toward third.
“I guess you could say we’re just not familiar playing with each other,” Beckham said. “We knew what to do if a ball was hit in between, and it just didn’t take place. I’m not going to point the finger at anyone at all, but the play has to be made.”
Gardner then homered in the 11th on a 1-1 slider up and over the middle of the plate from Kittredge (0-1), who made his debut July 18 and lost in his first big league decision.
“He’s the heart and soul,” CC Sabathia said of Gardner. “He’s the jokester. He gets everybody going. He’s a big part of this team. He has been for a long time.”
Gardner, who turns 34 next month, is batting .261 with 46 RBIs and 66 runs. He was gassed on his triple.
“I was struggling coming around second base. I felt like I was all knees and elbows,” he said.
Manager Joe Girardi told Gardner in spring training he wanted him to score 100 runs.
“He’s just got the clutch gene,” rookie Clint Frazier said. “He’s just like a little kid out there, and he carries a lot of energy.”
Judge lost part of the tooth when a helmet he was holding got hit upward inadvertently by a teammate. The tooth was his only injury, Yankees spokesman Jason Zillo said.
New York is on its longest winning streak since a six-game spurt from June 7-12 that was followed by a 9-19 skid. The Yankees pulled within a half-game of first-place Boston in the AL East and opened a 2½ -game lead over the third-place Rays.
Aroldis Chapman (3-1) needed just 19 pitches to strike out four over two perfect innings — including three in a row in the 11th — his longest outing since last year’s World Series.
Girardi was ejected in the seventh inning by plate umpire Stu Scheurwater for arguing balls and strikes. Girardi was angered by a 3-0 called strike to Gardner, who grounded out, and then pitches to Frazier and Judge. Girardi continued to bark from the dugout for two batters before coming out for an animated argument.
New York built a 3-0 lead against Chris Archer, but Evan Longoria started Tampa Bay’s comeback in the fourth with a home run that hit the top of the right-field wall and bounced over. Longoria is hitting .421 (32 for 76) against Sabathia with eight homers and 17 RBIs, and his 35 home runs off the Yankees since 2008 are the most by any player.
Hechavarria and Peter Bourjos hit consecutive one-out doubles in the three-run fourth, and Sabathia was visibly dismayed when Girardi walked to the mound to bring in Chad Green, who allowed a two-run double to pinch-hitter Brad Miller.Corey Dickerson homered in the sixth for a 5-3 lead, but Matt Holliday cut the gap when he hit into a run-scoring forceout in the eighth.
After losing 18 of the previous 24 games decided by two runs or fewer, Girardi was happy to win a close one with fluke single.
“We caught a break,” he said.
Sabathia fanned Beckham in the fourth inning for his 2,800th strikeout. That passed Cy Young for sole possession of 20th on the career list, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Major League Baseball’s statistician. Other sources have Young’s total at 2,803.
New York’s Tyler Wade stranded the bases loaded when he struck out in the sixth, hit into an inning-ending double play with two on in the eighth and struck out to leave the potential winning run on second in the 10th.
Yankees: OF Aaron Hicks (right oblique strain) and 1B Tyler Austin (right hamstring strain) likely will start minor league rehab assignments Monday.
RHP Masahiro Tanaka (7-9, 5.37) is slated to start Friday on five days’ rest for New York. Tampa Bay is recalling RHP Austin Pruitt (5-1, 6.25) from Triple-A Durham to take the turn of RHP Jake Odorizzi, on the DL with a lower back strain.
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