NEW YORK -- When it comes to Brett Gardner, first-year Yankees manager Aaron Boone believes in metrics and makeup.
Even as Gardner's batting average dipped under .200, Boone was optimistic. For starters, Gardner's exit velocities and other advanced stats indicated a breakout was coming. Plus, the speedy leadoff man was still getting on base.
It wasn't just the numbers, though.
"He's just a broad-shouldered, tough player," Boone said. "He just has a way of competing in the biggest spots."
Gardner capped a slump-busting performance with a go-ahead, two-run triple off Craig Kimbrel in the eighth inning, Aaron Judge followed with a homer and New York rallied to beat the Boston Red Sox 9-6 Wednesday night for its 17th victory in 18 games.
Kimbrel entered with two on and one out to face Gardner seeking the first five-out save of his career. Gardner drilled a full-count pitch into left-center, well over the head of center fielder Mookie Betts, who was playing shallow. Neil Walker scored easily from third and rookie Gleyber Torres raced from first and slid past a lunging tag attempted by catcher Christian Vazquez.
"There's just a toughness that he plays the game with," Boone said of Gardner. "Tonight, I was happy to see him break through."
Judge followed with a line drive to center measured at 117 mph off the bat, his ninth homer of the season. He had three hits, three RBI and a diving catch in right field as New York won its eighth straight overall and 11th in a row at home.
New York (26-10) broke a tie with Boston for first place in the AL East and has sole possession of the best record in the majors for the first time since July 27, 2012. The Yankees are on a 35-8 tear in the Bronx since Sept. 2, including the postseason, and at 16-5 have the best home record in the majors this year.
Fans at a sold-out Yankee Stadium went wild in the eighth. Judge compared it to the postseason atmosphere last October, and the party spilled over onto River Avenue so loudly it could still be heard back inside the stadium 15 minutes after the game.
"It's May, and it was bedlam," Boone said. "It was fun to be a part of that."
Aroldis Chapman pitched the ninth for his ninth save. J.D. Martinez got a hit off Chapman and ran into the closer trying to round first base. Martinez argued for interference, but the umpires held him at first on a grounder hit inside the bag. Chapman struck out Mitch Moreland to end it.
The 34-year-old Gardner doubled and scored twice earlier in the game after hitting .147 without an extra-base hit over his previous 19 games. Boone predicted before the game that a breakout was imminent, citing internal metrics and an appreciation for Gardner's steady approach.
"The longer you're around and the older you get, the more you realize that you can't get too excited about maybe one or two good games and you can't get too down about one or two bad weeks," Gardner said. "You just have to keep working."
The Yankees had walk-off wins in three of their previous five home games. This rally came an inning earlier.
Kimbrel replaced Matt Barnes (0-1) after a double by Walker and a one-out walk to Torres. It was the second blown save in four appearances for Kimbrel, who recently became the fastest reliever to 300 career saves.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora said the team had planned to be aggressive with Kimbrel because he hadn't pitched since Saturday.
"Today was the day we were like, `You know what? He's rested enough and we know they've been coming back against a lot of teams," Cora said.
Hanley Ramirez put Boston ahead 6-5 with a two-run homer in the seventh. Ramirez turned on a hanging slider from reliever Chad Green and crushed it deep into the second deck in left field for his fourth homer.
Giancarlo Stanton drove in two with a go-ahead double off Rick Porcello in the third inning a day after hitting a pair of solo homers in a 3-2 Yankees victory. It was the first time Stanton had RBI in consecutive games this season, and he improved to 10 for 19 with seven RBI against Boston during his first season in pinstripes.
Porcello allowed five runs in 5 1/3 innings -- his first time giving up three or more runs this season.
Tuesday's 3-2 win by the Yankees in the series opener was the highest-rated game on the YES Network since Derek Jeter's home finale in 2014, drawing more than 600,000 total viewers. It was the first time Boston and New York met with the majors' two best records since 2002, per the Elias Sports Bureau.
Red Sox: LHP David Price was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome after twice experiencing numbness in his pitching hand this season. Cora called it "good news compared to anything else." Price will throw at Yankee Stadium on Thursday before being re-evaluated.
Yankees: 1B Greg Bird is set to begin a rehab assignment Thursday with Class A Tampa as he works back from ankle surgery on March 27. He had been playing in extended spring training.
Left-handers CC Sabathia and Eduardo Rodriguez face each other in the series finale. The 37-year-old Sabathia has allowed just one earned run in four starts since returning to the Yankees from a brief DL stint. Rodriguez struck out 10 last time out against Texas, but he's also allowed five earned runs in each of his past two outings.
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