If the New York Yankees do indeed clinch home-field advantage in the American League for the playoffs and avoid a trip to Anaheim, they should be thanking Brett Gardner.
For the third time in a week, Gardner has provided the kind of spark for the Yankees that only he can, and this time it might have led to the Yankees' biggest win of the season.
With the Yankees desperately trying to hold off their nemesis, the Angels for best record in the American League, it was Gardner who made the plays to put the Yankees ahead in the 9th inning of a 5-5 game.
He led off the inning with a clean single up the middle, and, after enduring a plethora of pick-off attempts, stole second base on a pitch-out, although he did slide off the bag and should have been called out.
While I don't dispute that the call was wrong, as the saying goes: "Fortune favors the bold." Anyone else running on that play and it's a relatively clean out.
Four hitters later, Gardner scored on a sacrifice fly, despite a great throw from Torii Hunter. Once again, Gardner was probably the only Yankee fast enough to score on that play.
And this wasn't the only time Gardner's done something like that. In fact, it wasn't the third time in the Yankees last seven games he's used his speed to key a Yankee victory.
On September 16, Gardner led off the ninth inning of a tied game against the Blue Jays with a single before stealing second. He then moved to third on a ground ball hit to the shortstop of all people.
Because he was now on third with only one out, the Blue Jays had to bring the infield in to make a play at the play on a ground ball. Which is why Fransisco Cervelli's single just made it to the outfield.
This game two days after Gardner's steal of third base in the 8th inning of a tied game with the Angels led to him scoring the winning run when Mike Napoli's throw was off, and skipped into the outfield.
Yes, once again, a better throw gets him, but at the same time, the bad throws are still a product of Gardner and his speed and the way he forces the issue. You put pressure on people to make a play, and sometimes, the can't do it.
Now I know, you're saying: "Derek Jeter could have done that. So could Damon. They're fast." Yes, they are. Jeter stole his 27th base this season in the game tonight. Damon has only ten but has yet to be caught and there are any number of strategic reasons why he's running less (Jeter being on second, the Yankees not wanting an open base for Teixeria, etc.)
However, I don't think either Jeter or Damon have the top end speed Gardner does. While they might have been able to steal the bases, I'm not sure either of them beats Hunter's throw tonight. And I'm not sure either would go to third on a ground ball to the shortstop.
Look, it's impossible to know what would have happened if Gardner hadn't done what he did. Maybe the Yankees win the games anyway. I'm fully aware of the Fallacy of the Pre-determined Outcome. However, the reality is, he did make those plays and they did spur the Yankees to victory.
And the two wins over Anaheim might be the victories that allow the Yankees to hold off the Angels for home field. If those two games go the other way, the Yanks' lead on the Angels is just one in the loss column. The Yankees do not play well in Anaheim. They really never have in this era. If the Yankees can avoid having to win a game there, should the two teams meet, it could mean a lot.
Now, that's looking very likely to happen. Thanks in no small part to Brett Gardner