Gardner a deserving choice for 1st All-Star selection

Okay, Yankees fans, you can back off the #VOTEGARDY campaign. Brett Gardner did not know when he hit a home run in the first inning Thursday that he had been selected for the American League All-Star squad as a replacement for Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list and may be out for as long as two months because of a severe groin strain.

It was not until the fourth inning when word reached Yankee Stadium that AL manager Ned Yost of the Royals had picked Gardner for the team, joining Yankees mates Mark Teixeira and Dellin Betances. By then, Gardy had racked up two more hits in another top-shelf performance that was part of their 6-2 victory over the Athletics.

His teammates had gotten into the act by wearing bald caps in support of their head-shaven left fielder, who was one of five players in the Final Vote Ballot that continues Friday. Yankees fans had been urged to support Gardner, but he was running fourth in the voting. Nevertheless, Yost made the right decision in seeing that Gardner deserved his first career All-Star berth. That does not mean he will be in the starting lineup. The Orioles’ Adam Jones, who was fourth in the fans’ vote, will get that call, but Gardner has his well-earned ticket to Cincinnati for the July 14 game at Great American Ballpark.

With three more hits Thursday, Gardner has raised his season batting average to .303. He ranks fourth in the major leagues in runs (62) and stolen bases (15) and eighth in doubles (21) and on-base percentage (.382). His .489 slugging percentage is a meaty figure for a hitter who usually bats first or second in the order. In 19 games since June 18, Gardner is batting .418 in 79 at-bats with 19 runs, seven doubles, one triples, five home runs, 12 RBI and 12 walks to raise his season batting average 41 points. His 10th home run of the year Thursday lifted his first-inning batting average to .406 in 69 at-bats with 21 runs, six doubles, two triples, two homers, seven RBI, six walks and three stolen bases.

Those are All-Star caliber stats.

Mashiro Tanaka could not hold the 1-0 lead Gardner provided as the A’s struck for two runs in the second inning aided by a catcher’s interference call against Brian McCann. Yet the doubles Tanaka allowed to Billy Butler and Mark Canha that scored the runs were the only hits off the righthander in his 7 2/3 innings.

Tanaka got 19 consecutive outs (although Butler reached base in the fourth on a third-strike wild pitch, one of the rare glitches in Tanaka’s outing). He walked one batter and struck out six to post his first winning decision in five starts since June 9 and brought his ERA down from 3.94 to 3.63. Now he will get some extra rest during the All-Star break. Tanaka also gave some rest to a bullpen that was busy in the first two games in the series as Nathan Eovaldi and CC Sabathia did not get through the sixth inning either night.

With Tanaka mowing down Oakland hitters one by one, the Yankees were able to stay close and skip past the A’s. The Yanks tied the score against Jesse Chavez in the third on a leadoff walk to Jacoby Ellsbury and singles by Gardner and Teixeira.

Ellsbury put the Yankees in front with a two-run single in the fourth, a rally fortified with a double by Cole Figueroa, a Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre call-up who played third base for ailing Chase Headley (right calf inflammation). Figueroa also doubled in the eighth when the Yankees tacked on two more runs on a wild throw to first base by shortstop Marcus Semien, who has committed an astonishing 28 errors in 87 games, which puts him on a pace for 51 over a full season.

In taking the series, two games to one, from Oakland the Yankees have opened up a three-game lead in the AL East over the Orioles, who did not play Thursday. The Blue Jays and the Rays both lost and trail the Yanks by 3 ½ games and 4 ½ games, respectively.

The Yankees now head to Fenway Park for a three-game set prior to the All-Star break. The Red Sox, who once seemed buried in the division (they were 10 games out June 20), are still in last place but have won four straight games and eight of their past 10 to move to 5 ½ games of first and are only a half-game behind fourth-place Tampa Bay. Boston’s recent resurgence and the steady run by the Yankees of late will add some extra juice to the rivalry over the weekend.

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