CHICAGO (AP) — With the Yankees down to their final strike, Brett Gardner let his emotions out once his go-ahead home run landed on a patio in right field.
He pumped his left arm as he rounded the bases and gave Jacoby Ellsbury a leaping high-five after crossing home plate.
Gardner lined a slider from Hector Rondon for a three-run, ninth-inning drive that lifted New York over the World Series champion Chicago Cubs 3-2 in a dramatic series opener Friday.
“I was fired up, man,” Gardner said. “I’m usually pretty even keeled, but I was excited. We were kind of slow all game, and they’re winning 2-0 up to last strike in the ninth inning. It feels good to come through in a situation like that.”
Home runs by Kris Bryant in the first and Kyle Schwarber in the sixth off Michael Pineda gave the Cubs that 2-0 lead on a 45-degree afternoon with the wind blowing in.
Chase Headley singled with one out in the ninth off Rondon (0-1), pitching after Wade Davis appeared in the previous three games. Ellsbury, in his first appearance since injuring an elbow Monday, pinch hit with two outs and walked.
Gardner fouled off a pair of 1-2 fastballs, took a ball and on his seventh pitch of the at-bat hit his fifth home run of the season , all in the last six games.
“He was drooling coming around the bases,” Headley said. “When he got in the dugout, he was drooling.”
The Cubs threw 29 pitches to Gardner in his five plate appearances. The homer came on a low, inside offering when Cubs catcher Willson Contreras was set up on the outer part of the plate.
“It was the right pitch, but it wasn’t in the right spot,” Contreras said.
Aroldis Chapman, who received his World Series ring from the Cubs before the game, had to pitch out of trouble in the bottom half. Addison Russell reached second when Headley allowed his leadoff grounder to bounce past him and down the left-field line for an error.
Chapman froze Jason Heyward with a breaking ball for a called third strike, retired Willson Contreras on a grounder to Headley, then struck out Javier Baez on a 100 mph fastball for his seventh save in as many chances.
“Errors are part of the game,” Chapman said through a translator. “It’s not the first or last time it’ll happen. It’s going to keep happening. My job is to focus and make sure that runner on second doesn’t score.”
Jonathan Holder (1-0) pitched a one-hit eighth for his first major league victory, helping combine on a four-hitter.
New York, 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position before Gardner’s homer, has won twice when trailing after eight innings, one shy of its total in 2016. At 18-9, the Yankees maintained their AL East lead.
Starlin Castro, traded from the Cubs to the Yankees in December 2015, received a warm ovation from fans and had two hits in his return to Wrigley Field. Castro was thrown out at the plate by Heyward to end the sixth on Headley’s fly to right. Contreras hung onto the ball even though he got shaken up when Castro’s right shoulder hit his face.
Cubs starter Kyle Hendicks gave up six hits in 5 1/3 scoreless innings, lowering his ERA from 4.18 to 3.51. He was in position to win before Gardner’s hit.
“We’ve gotten off to a pretty good start here,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, “but there’s a long ways to go.”
Girardi spoke with the baseball team at Northwestern, his alma mater, on Thursday. He made his only All-Star appearance with the Cubs in 2000.
Yankees: New York acquired minor league RHP Yoiber Marquina from Cleveland to complete the deal that sent RHP Nick Goody to Cleveland on Dec. 20.
Cubs: Chicago optioned RHP Justin Grimm to Triple-A Iowa and recalled RHP Felix Pena from the minor league club. Grimm is 1-0 with a 7.30 ERA in 12 relief appearances for the Cubs. Pena had four saves for Iowa.
Heyward also started a double play from right in the first inning. He made a sliding catch on Castro’s fly and threw to second to retire Aaron Hicks , who had rounded third and was near the plate.
Yankees: C Gary Sanchez went 0 for 4 and got hit by a pitch in his return from the disabled list. He had been sidelined since April 8 because of a strained right biceps. C Kyle Higashioka was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Yankees: LHP Jordan Montgomery (1-1, 4.15 ERA) is to make his fifth major league start Saturday.
Cubs: LHP Brett Anderson (2-1, 6.23) looks to bounce back after getting knocked out early by Philadelphia on Monday. He gave up seven runs in just 1 1/3 innings and saw his ERA leap from 3.54 to 6.23.
MLB photo of the day
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