Brett Gardner was drenched in champagne in the visiting clubhouse at Target Field, soaking in the Yankees’ triumph over the Twins in the ALDS, but his mind was still on the final week of September.
That’s when the Yankees failed to catch the Astros for the best record in the American League and dropped four of five at Tampa Bay and Texas.
So, after a 103-win season and an AL East title, Gardner said he still wasn’t thrilled heading into the ALDS.
“I wasn’t happy with the way we ended the regular season,” Gardner said late Monday night into Tuesday morning in Minneapolis. “It kind of left a sour taste in my mouth.”
That taste was knocked out in the celebration in Minnesota, where the Yankees overmatched a Twins team seemingly incapable of beating anyone in October — particularly the Yankees.
And that history no doubt led to the Yankees not keeping their feet on the pedal over the last few games of the season, when they used openers in back-to-back days and were more concerned in getting players back and lining up their pitching than in catching the Astros.
Aaron Boone acknowledged as much at the time, saying he was trying to get — and keep — his players healthy for the playoffs.
The strategy worked perfectly, at least so far, as the Yankees manhandled the Twins.
But the team’s play down the stretch still got Gardner’s attention.
“I don’t want to say I was concerned,” Gardner said. “It just didn’t feel great and that’s not how you want to be playing when it’s almost the most important time of the season. You want to be at your best and I wasn’t sure we were.”
Those thoughts have dissipated thanks to their rout of the Twins.
Gardner was a key part of it, going 3-for-12 with a homer, three runs scored and three RBIs to go along with a walk and five strikeouts, all while hitting third in the lineup, ahead of Edwin Encarnacion.
“We were able to reboot with the time off and now we’re playing good baseball,” Gardner said of the break they got before the start of the ALDS and the ensuing result. “We’re doing everything well and what’s important is how we’re playing now. I like where we’re at.”