Instead, the Yankees put together a five-run rally to edge the Rangers, 6-5, in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, and many lauded Gardner for getting it all started. He said that his instincts told him to go head-first, as he recalled a play in the Minor Leagues in which he'd lost a hit in similar fashion.
"There was a left-handed pitcher on the mound and he caught it and rolled around, and tagged me before my foot hit the base -- I was furious," Gardner said, recalling his time at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. "I should have been safe.
"I had the guy beat to the bag, but because he was left-handed when he caught it with his glove, he was able to reach me and tag me out before I hit the base. I said to myself, 'I'll never let that happen again.'"
Yankees manager Joe Girardi admits he has to hold his breath every time Gardner goes diving into a base, fearing the worst-case scenarios. But there's no question that, in that case, it got results.
"I always cringe a little bit when guys slide, because you worry about them getting stepped on or jamming a shoulder, but he's probably right," Girardi said. "C.J. Wilson would have been able to tag him if he was standing up. It's a great hustle play. Your great concern as a manager is a guy getting hurt more than anything else, and he came out of it fine."
Gardner said after the game on Friday that he feels "sometimes I can get there quicker, depending on how my body is leaning and how my steps pan out when I'm getting closer to the bag." Conventional baseball logic suggests that sliding slows the runner down instead of getting him to the base quicker.
"Everybody says that you don't get there quicker, but I've never really measured it for time," Girardi said. "I really don't know. The bottom line is, he was safe, and it turned out to be a big play."
That is the luxury of the upper-echelon speed that Gardner wields, and Rangers manager Ron Washington was among those impressed after Friday's game, commenting that Gardner "just ran past C.J. That kid can fly. I don't know if there is anybody faster than him."
It was a topic that Gardner said came up recently with Curtis Granderson, as the Yankees outfielders brainstormed a suggestion for the All-Star Game festivities in upcoming years.
"I think they need to have a race at the All-Star Game, just line up 10 or 20 guys and see who wins," Gardner said. "That would be fun. [With Greg] Golson on our team -- he's really, really fast. Greg can really, really run. I haven't raced him, and I don't really want to. Obviously, [Rangers outfielder Julio] Borbon, he can run and there are several guys that can really move. There's only one way to find out; let's do a race."