Yankees: Brett Gardner’s second-half greatness going under the radar

Let’s give it up one final time — it is final this time, right? — for Brett Gardner, the longest-tenured member of the New York Yankees.

Gardner’s farewell season was written off as a sentimental mistake sometime in mid-May, but then, wouldn’t you know it, the damndest thing happened in the second half of the season: the old man started to hit.

Though his clutch-as-hell game against John Means and the Orioles on Wednesday night is the most prominent example of his recent greatness, that game wasn’t a one-in-a-million shot.

The stats bear it out; Gardner, nearly unplayable if not completely irrelevant in the season’s first half, has been an All-Star level fill-in since the break.

On one level, I can assure you the numbers you’re about to see will surprise you. Gardner was cooked, after all. He was a step slow in 2020. He had lost the rocket balls, muting his late-career power surge.

But on another level … Gardner cannot be discounted. Whenever he seems done, that’s when he becomes the most dangerous. When he’s been crowded out of the Yankees outfield and buried at fifth on the depth chart, that’s when he’s most likely to return to the lineup and make an impact.

Gardy’s second-half numbers, after a first-half that felt like a farewell, are among the best of his career. But you shouldn’t be stunned. That’s how this whole thing works.

Yankees stalwart Brett Gardner is having a second half for the ages (and ageless).

Gardner’s 2019 season (at the age of 35) foretold great, and previously unforeseen, things. Though the outfielder had developed “surprising” pop in his early 30s and showed off his home run trot plenty in 2017 (21 bombs, including a particularly impressive one in the Wild Card Game), he leveled up again in ’19, destroying 28 homers in 141 games.

That season both set expectations unfairly for 2020 and made us forget what the aging Gardner theoretically could still be on a good team: the man who battled and battled and battled in the 2017 ALDS before ultimately demoralizing the Cleveland Indians with a two-out, two-run insurance single in Game 5. Opposing fanbases hate this man, but not because of his one-season home run surge. They hate him because he won’t go away.

And that’s exactly what we’ve seen in the second half this season, when Gardner’s gnat-like quickness and relentlessness have been most necessary. There’s a reason he shrugged off a tough 2020 to become a playoff starter, replacing Clint Frazier and performing like the team’s hottest hitter.

And there’s a reason he seemed like the perfect Yankee to have up with runners on first and second and one out in the ninth inning of a must-win game on Wednesday.

https://twitter.com/Yankees/status/1438332900118781954?s=20

If you’ve felt Gardner’s reliability increasing recently and reverting back to the career-long mean he’s worked so hard to set, then you’re not alone.

You might not have noticed, but he’s fueled the Bombers’ surge into the Wild Card picture, too. He’s done it after fouling off several balls first to distract you, sure, but it’s still happening.