|Brett Gardner (left, in high socks) during batting practice early in the season. Photo by Jason Schott.|
The Yankees have surged to the top of the standings thanks in part to the performance of phenoms like Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar.
Their success this season also depends on their longest-tenured player, lead-off hitter Brett Gardner.
On Tuesday night against Houston, Gardner went 4-for-5 with two home runs and three RBI.
For the second time in four nights, he led off the game with a home run, staking the Yankees to an early lead against Houston's Brad Peacock.
With the Yankees trailing 5-3 in the ninth, Gardner launched a two-run shot to tie it.
This was Gardner's sixth career game-tying or go-ahead homer in the ninth inning or later and first since he hit a walk-off solo homer on July 27 of last season against Tampa.
It was also the sixth multi-home run game of his career, and first since May 30 of last season against Baltimore.
Aroldis Chapman pitched a scoreless top of the tenth, and in the bottom half of the frame, Andujar laced a two-out double before Torres drove him home with a walk-off RBI single.
This was the Yankees' fifth walk-off win of the season.
Gardner has hit safely in eight of his last nine games, batting .368 (14-38) with three home runs, five RBI, five runs scored, and three doubles in the stretch.
The 34-year old left fielder is hitting .256 on the season, with four home runs and 18 RBI, with 29 walks, to give him and on-base percentage of .363, and a slugging percentage of .378.
Ever since he came up to the big leagues in 2008, Gardner has always been the kind of player that has characterized this era of Yankee baseball, a hard-nosed player who never takes anything for granted.
This is the kind of player you want setting the tone for this burgeoning young core, which in addition to Torres and Andujar, includes Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird.
In a way, Gardner is the bridge from the last world championship team in 2009, when he was a young player surrounded by veterans, to this current team, which is looking to finish off what they started last season, when they came within one win of the World Series.
Tuesday night's win over Houston is what has become emblematic of this Yankees team, as they are never out of games and the hero of the night could be the stoic veteran or one of their new stars, or both.