Brett Gardner's Game-Saving Catch Helped Keep the Yankees in the Playoff Hunt
One of the great aspects of baseball that differs from a sport like football is that most players have the opportunity to affect the game on both sides of the ball. A bad night at the plate can be overlooked because of a stellar performance in the field, which is exactly the scenario New York Yankees' outfielder Brett Gardner found himself in after Tuesday night's contest against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Gardner finished the night 0-for-4 with a strikeout at the dish. A poor showing for any hitter, especially for a leadoff guy whose job is to get on base. However, his involvement on the game's final play quickly erased his hitless night.
In what was a back-and-forth game all night -- more on that later -- the Yankees found themselves with a three-run lead entering the top of the ninth inning. After a combination of three walks and two singles, the Blue Jays had cut their deficit to one and had the bases loaded with two outs. A hit would have likely given Toronto the lead, but an out would end the game and grant the victory to the Yankees.
Now that the scene is set, let's watch how Gardner capped of the win.
Top Play Alert: Top of the 9th, 2 outs, bases loaded, 1 run lead, game on the line. We bring you Brett Gardner. https://t.co/WjKHO3VP2O
— FanDuel (@FanDuel) September 7, 2016
Judging by how Gardner reacted to the catch -- looking at his glove -- he seems to have surprised even himself that he came down with it. The surprise might stem from Gardner owning just a 0.8 UZR/150 this season, which ranks 7th out of 12 qualified left fielders. However, his 10 Defensive Runs Saved this year is fourth-best among the same group.
His impressive grab was the end to a wild game that the Yankees needed to win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive.
After a two-run double by Kevin Pillar in the top of the eighth inning gave the Blue Jays a 4-3 lead, the odds of the Yankees winning fell to just 26.5%. However, a huge bottom frame in which the Bronx Bombers put up four runs moved the winning percentage back in their favor to an all-but-sure thing 96.7% after the eighth inning ended. I already mentioned the top of the ninth that Toronto had, but to put some numbers to it, they lowered the Yankees' odds of winning to just 54.4% after they scored their second run.
Words can't give this crazy swing the justice it deserves, so check out the game graph below, via FanGraphs.
Gardner's catch goes down as a "fly out to left field" but in reality was much more than that. The win moved the Yankees to 72-65, which is a season-high 7 games over .500. They have now won 20 games since the start of August, which is the 3rd-most in the American League. They are still in 4th place in the American League East, which makes for a huge hurdle to overcome, but they are only 3.5 games out of the second wild card spot.
Despite the improved play as of late, our projections still give the Yankees just a 6.2% chance of making the playoffs. The Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox are tied atop the division, with the Baltimore Orioles are just one game back. We have the Red Sox and Blue Jays at each over 80% to make the postseason while the O's are currently at 47.5%.
In other words, the Yankees will not only need to continue playing as one of baseball's best teams, but they'll also need a few other teams to fall off. They're also battling with the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros for that final wild card spot, meaning they'll need to leapfrog three other clubs.
Regardless, Gardner's catch sealed a wild win for the Yankees and at least keeps them in the playoff conversation -- for now.