Gardner saves the day in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- From his vantage point in center field, Jacoby Ellsbury thought the game would have been over.

Yadier Molina had just driven a ball off Yankees reliever Alfredo Aceves that appeared like it would end the game in 11 innings. From Ellsbury's point of view, there was little doubt about it.

"I think it would have been a homer," Ellsbury said.

But left fielder Brett Gardner raced to the wall, leaped up and snared the ball before anyone could know for sure if it would have gone out. With a runner on first and just one out in the bottom of the 11th, if Gardner doesn't make the play, the Yankees would have been in big trouble, homer or no homer.

It is a situation Gardner said he practices during spring training. He didn't seem especially impressed with himself, even after extending the game to the 12th, which allowed the Yankees to defeat the Cardinals 6-4.

"It was an easy play," Gardner said following the Yanks' third straight win, which took nearly four hours and was preceded by a one-hour rain delay that included hardly any rain.

The Yankees did not mind the long day because of the way it ended. In fact, they are becoming quite accustomed to this. Three of the Yankees' four wins on this road trip have come in extra frames.

"It feels like we've played extra innings every day," said Brian Roberts, who hit the go-ahead RBI single in the 12th.

Gardner made it possible for Roberts, but the pitching set up Gardner's catch. Chase Whitley was workmanlike, with five innings of three-run ball in his third major league start.

The relievers did their job after Yankees manager Joe Girardi made an interesting choice.

In the sixth inning, Whitley departed with the bases loaded and none out. Girardi turned to Preston Claiborne instead of the red-hot Dellin Betances. With Adam Warren unavailable, Girardi wanted to save Betances for the seventh and eighth innings.

Later, Girardi offered a convoluted answer on the subject, saying he didn't want to overuse Betances, but was planning on having him pitch two innings Monday.

"We're trying not to kill Betances, No. 1, in a sense," Girardi said. "That spot was coming up, the fourth hitter, that inning, [and] I knew I wanted multiple innings out of Betances."

Claiborne wasn't Betances, but he wasn't bad. A near double play and sacrifice fly allowed the Cardinals to tie it at 3. With no Betances, no outs and the bases loaded, you couldn't ask for much more.

Betances then did what Betances does, retiring the Cardinals in order in the eighth and ninth.

Next up was Alfredo Aceves' high-wire act. Before Monday, Aceves had given up at least one run in five of his seven appearances. But he didn't allow any in the 10th and 11th.

Aceves did pick up the win. But it was mostly because of a nifty double play started by Brendan Ryan in the 10th, and then Gardner's catch in the 11th.

In the fifth inning, Gardner nearly made a more impressive catch than the one in the 11th. Matt Holliday launched a ball off Whitley that Gardner thought would have landed in the back of the Yankees' bullpen if not for the wind. Gardner scaled the fence in left.

"I learned from Ichiro," Gardner said.

The ball drifted away from Gardner, and Holliday ended up with a double. But Gardner got another chance, and a little revenge, against Molina. Molina had nailed Gardner trying to steal second base in the eighth inning.

So here was Gardner against the wall in the 11th, trying to save the day for the Yankees. Aceves threw the pitch, Molina connected and Girardi thought his team might lose.

"I was a little bit worried," Girardi said.

But Gardner made the catch.

"That was probably the difference in the game," Girardi said.

And the Yankees are now 4-3 on this road trip with two games remaining.