There was a small cushion of confidence, however, as the rookie wasted some of Papelbon's best heat. On the eighth pitch of an at-bat, Gardner connected, dribbling a game-winning hit past second base and lifting the Yankees to a 5-4 victory over the Red Sox in 10 innings on Sunday.
"It's awesome -- it's something I'll remember for the rest of my life," said Gardner, his uniform still dirty and fresh from being pummeled by his teammates' hands. "It's definitely an unbelievable experience.
"I was talking to the ball and trying to talk it up the middle. As soon as I saw [Julio Lugo] get some glove on it, I was like, 'Oh, no.' But it squirted away."
Gardner's heroics came on the same day the Yankees placed outfielder Johnny Damon on the disabled list, marking the first time in the veteran's career that he had to watch a game while not being listed on the active roster.
In Gardner, however, the Yankees see flickers of what Damon has meant to their lineup. The best-case scenario has Damon returning in 15 days, so Gardner will continue to have chances to improve on his total of three big league hits and showcase what he can do at this level.
"His speed is exciting; he's going to cover a lot of ground in the outfield and he's going to battle you at the plate," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who was ejected in the sixth inning for arguing balls and strikes.
"He's going to make you see a lot of pitches, similar to what Johnny Damon does. Obviously, Johnny has a lot more experience, but the kid is kind of out of the same mold."
One of the first players rushing out of the dugout to greet Gardner was closer Mariano Rivera, who emerged clapping his hands as the game's winning pitcher. Rivera hurled a pair of scoreless innings to send the game toward midnight, but his best work arguably came in the ninth inning -- no surprise for the newly minted All-Star.
Sensing an opportunity after Sean Casey singled to open the inning, Red Sox manager Terry Francona decided to empty his bullets. Pinch-runner Brandon Moss moved to second base on a Coco Crisp sacrifice, and Francona called back Lugo to try his luck with pinch-hitter Jason Varitek, who splintered his bat across the infield and managed only a weak nubber back to Rivera.
Francona's next move drew acting Yankees manager Rob Thomson into a trot from the dugout, as the slumbering Manny Ramirez began limbering in the on-deck circle. But Ramirez fared no better, staring at three Rivera pitches to strike out and leave Moss stranded 90 feet away.
"I was kind of surprised -- yeah, definitely," Rivera said. "Yeah, I was kind of surprised he didn't take the bat off his shoulder. I don't know what he was thinking. That's Manny."
Making his first career start against the Red Sox, Joba Chamberlain allowed three runs over six innings, with all of the damage coming in the fifth.
"You try to keep your pitches down, and you knew they were going to get in long at-bats just because of the way they're set up," Chamberlain said. "They've got great hitters to do that. Earlier, we kept the pitches down, and it was good early."
Kevin Youkilis and Casey led off the fifth with singles to right and Crisp walked on a wild pitch that squirted toward the Red Sox's dugout, allowing Youkilis to score tying run, sliding home into Chamberlain's shin.
He said he never felt the slide, but Chamberlain had other troubles in the fifth. He thought he might have ended the inning, catching Jacoby Ellsbury on a half-swing for strike three, but third-base umpire Kerwin Danley ruled it a non-swing to load the bases. Pedroia then did his best to clear them, shooting a two-run single into right-center field to give Boston a 3-1 lead.
There were more than a few eyebrows raised in the sixth inning, when Chamberlain zipped a fastball behind Youkilis' knees, prompting him to turn and glare toward the mound.
"We were going to try to throw it under his bat and run it under his hands," Chamberlain said. "It got away. There was nothing about it. I was trying to get him out. He'd been on base two times and I didn't want him on base again."
Alex Rodriguez opened the scoring in the second inning, when he turned on a Tim Wakefield knuckleball for a solo home run, the 536th of his career to tie Mickey Mantle for 13th place on baseball's all-time list.
A-Rod's milestone dinger came as he turned on an 0-1 pitch and drove it into the lower deck in left field, logging his 18th home run of the season.
The shot gave Rodriguez seven home runs in 69 career at-bats off Wakefield, tying him with Frank Thomas for the most all time against the right-hander.
Derek Jeter closed the gap to two runs in the sixth, an inning that saw Girardi ejected by home-plate umpire Laz Diaz for arguing his strike zone for Wakefield. On the pitch immediately following Girardi's second ejection as Yankees manager, Gardner singled to center and Jeter did the same, moving the 24-year-old speedster home standing up.
There was more circling the bases in the seventh as the Yankees tied the game at 4. Rodriguez got on with a leadoff single and, with one out, Posada greeted reliever Javier Lopez with a hit to put two aboard. Robinson Cano drove them both in with a two-run triple to the gap in right-center field.
"We've been fighting the whole season, but I think the team is getting better the last two games, especially with men on base," Cano said. "I think if we keep doing that more often, we're going to start winning more."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.