NEW YORK — A day before making a start that would shape his whole career, Brian Gordon wandered across the street from Yankee Stadium to a park where he could play catch. At some point, a man passing by noticed the newcomer.
“Hey, you’ve got a good arm!” the guy told him.
Pretty accurate scouting report.
Gordon pitched way better than the 32-year-old journeyman he is, keeping the Yankees close in a most unlikely outing before Brett Gardner hit a winning single in the 12th inning that sent New York past Texas 3-2 Thursday.
The Yankees became the first team to sweep AL champion Texas this year, taking all three games. New York won for the sixth time in seven tries and sent the Rangers to their season-worst fifth loss in a row.
Plucked this week from the Phillies, Gordon made his first big league appearance since 2008 and drew a no-decision for his 5 1-3 innings. He earned a spot, for now, in a patched-together rotation.
“Maybe stick around and help the Yankees,” Gordon said. “It sounds crazy saying that.”
Gardner’s one-out hit off Michael Kirkman (1-1) ended an afternoon that began with baseball’s latest feel-good story.
Needing another starter, the Yankees reached into the grab bag and found Gordon, a converted outfielder whose only prior big league experience came in three relief appearances for Texas three seasons ago.
Gordon actually belonged to Philadelphia and was 5-0 for Triple-A Lehigh Valley with a 1.14 ERA that led the International League. His contract came with a catch, however: He could instantly opt out if any major league team wanted him.
When the Yanks came calling a couple of days ago, Gordon chose to leave the IronPigs and put on pinstripes. Asked whether he was worried the Phils would be upset at his maneuvering, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman answered: “Hey, they got Cliff Lee, I got Brian Gordon.”
Because he hadn’t officially signed, Gordon needed a place to work out and wound up Wednesday on a field where the old Yankee Stadium stood.
Gordon pitched effectively enough, allowing two runs on seven hits and three walks. The righty retired Ian Kinsler on a fly with his first pitch of the day, later struck out AL MVP Josh Hamilton and got former teammate Michael Young on a popup in a key spot. Gordon struck out three.
“He has definitely evolved,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “I don’t remember him being able to move the ball around like he did today.”
Gordon walked off to his first pro standing ovation. A half-hour after the game in the clubhouse, he still was the main attraction. People wanted to know every aspect of his story — for example, he uses a lightweight glove made of synthetic materials, no leather.
At one point, Gordon’s new teammates playfully said it was time to break up the interview session before the Yankees had a plane to catch for Chicago.
Cory Wade (1-0), also signed by with the Yankees this week, pitched two perfect innings.
Texas starter C.J. Wilson struck out 10 and threw a career-high 129 pitches in eight innings. Darren Oliver relieved in the ninth and New York loaded the bases with one out before Curtis Granderson struck out chasing a full-count slider and Mark Teixeira grounded out.
Granderson singled to start the 12th and Robinson Cano was hit by a pitch, though Washington argued the ball hit his bat. Gardner, a late entry into the game, grounded a single to right and Granderson scored easily.
Armed with an average fastball and a big-bending, 68 mph curve, Gordon led 1-0 before Texas nicked him for two runs in the fifth. Kinsler looped an RBI double and with two outs, the bases loaded and the crowd standing, Gordon lost control of an 0-2 curve that plunked Adrian Beltre and forced home the go-ahead run.
Quite a whirlwind.
“The last 24 hours, it was nuts,” Gordon said. “Once I was on the field, I was comfortable. I had the ball in my hand, I knew what to do.”
Yankees manager Joe Girardi pulled Gordon after a one-out single by Taylor Teagarden in the sixth.
Gordon is set to make his make his next start at Cincinnati, where there is no designated hitter. Girardi said he’d already asked Gordon a key question: “Have you taken any swings this year?”
Turns out Gordon homered in his last Triple-A start. He hit 118 homers in his 10 years as an outfielder. He switched to pitching in 2007, helped by then-Astros executive Nolan Ryan.
A Babe Ruth in reverse, on a smaller scale.
“You spend 10 years grinding in the minors and you finally get your first big league at-bat as a pitcher,” he said.
Gordon’s wife, dad and mom were among his rooters sitting in the first two rows of the second deck, above the Yankees’ dugout. His mother, in fact, is the receptionist for Texas’ Triple-A Round Rock affiliate — a club owned by Ryan, who also owns the Rangers.
“I think it just now feels real,” wife Amanda said as Texas batted in the seventh inning. As the couple’s young son and daughter played with water bottles, Gordon’s wife fanned herself with two souvenir tickets and said, “This is better than anything we dreamed about.”
The stadium sound system played Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” when Gordon was introduced on the videoboard. Fitting, seeing how this was his 14th team and sixth organization since he started his professional career in 1997.
Gordon’s locker had no nameplate after the game. His stall did not come with a personal computer screen, the kind the Yankees regulars get.
Jorge Posada hit an RBI double in the New York sixth that made it 2-all. The Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the second on Russell Martin’s two-out single.
Martin missed the previous three games with back trouble. He had a good day behind the plate, too, throwing out a pair of would-be basestealers.
Notes: The Yankees went 6-4 on their homestand against first-place Boston, Cleveland and Texas. … The Yankees open a three-game series Friday at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs. Girardi plans to drive 2½ hours on Sunday morning to visit his dad, who has Alzheimer’s disease, on Father’s Day.