Rookie Gardner has big shoes to fill
New York (46-42) vs. Boston (52-38), Sunday, 8:05 p.m. ET
NEW YORK -- In one play, left fielder Brett Gardner didn't show he was the next Dave Winfield or the next Johnny Damon or even the next Yankees rookie phenom.Really, one play couldn't do that, but in the first inning against the Red Sox on Saturday, Gardner scooped a single to left by Dustin Pedroia and fired it to second base, where Pedroia was tagged out. It showed that, at least for now, the Yankees will be OK in the absence of the injured Damon. As the Yankees prepare to decide whether to place Damon on the disabled list -- his bruised left shoulder and strain of its left AC joint suggests it's highly possible -- Gardner is manning left field. The 24-year-old Gardner, whose contract was purchased from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Monday, said he hopes Damon returns soon from the injury -- which the veteran sustained in a collision with the left-field fence Friday -- although Damon acknowledged that this would be his best time to go on the DL because he'd miss fewer games with the All-Star break looming. "You'll never wish for somebody to get hurt or get on to the disabled list to give yourself an opportunity," Gardner said. "If he's out of the lineup and I'm the guy to fill in for him, those are some huge shoes to fill, and I'm not going to fill them or claim that I can fill them. I can't fill his shoes, and I don't think there's anybody in the game that can, either." Indeed, Gardner's .062 batting average in 16 at-bats over five games is a far cry from Damon's .319 mark this season. But Gardner, known for his speed and plate discipline, has three runs and two stolen bases, and he notched a decisive sacrifice fly in the Yankees' 2-1 over the Red Sox on Saturday. "He covers a lot of ground and he grinds out at-bats," manager Joe Girardi said. "He makes pitchers throw a lot of pitches and he creates a lot of havoc. He changes the way a defense plays -- you see how close [Red Sox third baseman] Mike Lowell was and the first baseman is. He can do a lot of different things." Any offensive boost from Gardner would be a welcome sight for a Yankees offense that's struggled to score runs recently besides an 18-run outburst against the Rangers on Wednesday. And it seemed that as Damon went, so did New York, as the outfielder hit .395 in Yankees wins and .228 in losses before Friday. Gardner has already learned much from facing Major League pitchers. "Be aggressive," he said. "Don't let them beat you with a fastball. Don't let them get ahead of you in an at-bat. I feel like I'm letting them get ahead a little bit.
"I feel like some pitches I should be swinging at, I've been letting go, but I learn from every at-bat, and that's one thing I can continue to work on -- not allowing them to just get one over for a strike."And until he finds a groove at the plate, Gardner said he will remember defensive plays like the one on Saturday. "That's one of the main things I bring to my table, I think, is my defense," Gardner said. "Whether or not I'm in a slump at the plate, it's something I can bring to the field every day. I feel like that's gotten me by the last several years. Sometimes, when you're struggling at the plate, you need to find ways to help your team win." Pitching matchup
NYY: RHP Joba Chamberlain (2-2, 2.22 ERA)
Chamberlain struggled against the Rangers on Tuesday, but held the Texas offense to just two runs despite a high pitch count. After throwing 91 pitches, the righty exited after four innings, his shortest outing since his first start June 3. Chamberlain gave up five hits and walked four, but he recorded six strikeouts to limit the damage. Girardi said his starter's control was a little off, and long innings led to the early exit. BOS: RHP Tim Wakefield (5-6, 3.72 ERA)
If there has been a recurring theme with Wakefield over the past few weeks, it's that he pitches well but doesn't win. In his past seven starts, the knuckleballer is 2-3 with a 1.98 ERA. Wakefield took a 3-1 loss to the Rays in his last start, giving up one earned run over seven innings. This will be Wakefield's first start of the season against the Yankees. Lifetime against New York, Wakefield is 9-16 with a 5.03 ERA. At Yankee Stadium, he is 5-7 with a 3.66 ERA. Tidbits
Damon said if he has similar pain in his injured left shoulder when he wakes up Sunday, he will probably go on the disabled list. ... Said Chamberlain of the series finale's importance: "It's just another game." ... The Yankees didn't notch an extra-base hit in Saturday's 2-1 win, only the sixth time that's happened this season. On three occasions, New York has won. Tickets
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Tuesday: Yankees (Sidney Ponson, 5-1, 4.19) vs. Rays (Scott Kazmir, 7-3, 2.63), 7:05 p.m. ET
Wednesday: Yankees (TBD) vs. Rays (Edwin Jackson, 5-6, 4.08), 1:05 p.m. ET
Willie Bans is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.