As a wizened veteran and the longest-tenured Yankees player, he carries a far lower profile than the influx of 20-somethings who have revitalized the franchise and hastened its rebuilding plan.
Even so, Gardner proved in the American League wild-card game Tuesday night why he is the perfect bridge between Yankees eras.
Gardner sparked New York's comeback from an early three-run deficit by going 2-for-4 with a homer and three runs as the Yankees outlasted the Minnesota Twins 8-4 at Yankee Stadium to advance to the AL Division Series against the Cleveland Indians.
"The one thing we've always seen in 'Gardy' is fight in him," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "And I thought that's what our club showed tonight. You have a bunch of young players, and they just kept at it and they kept at it."
The Yankees fell into a quick hole Tuesday, when Luis Severino was chased after recording only one out in the Twins' three-run first inning. Gardner set the tone for the digging-out effort by working a six-pitch leadoff walk in the bottom of the frame against Minnesota right-hander Ervin Santana.
"I'm just trying to see some pitches, I'm taking a strike -- I may have even taken two strikes," said Gardner, who didn't swing at a pitch during the plate appearance. "Just trying to make him work a little bit. Obviously trying to get on base anyway possible, trying to slow the game down in hopes we get a little momentum back on our side."
Aaron Judge, the best known of the Yankees' crop of youngsters, followed with a single. One out later, shortstop Didi Gregorius, who has seamlessly replaced Derek Jeter, hit a game-tying, three-run homer to send the sellout crowd of 49,280 into a frenzy.
"He put that good at-bat on Santana the very first at-bat of the game, just felt like we were going to get something going," said pitcher CC Sabathia, who was the ace of the Yankees' most recent championship team in 2009.
Gardner gave the Yankees their first lead in the second inning, when he was brushed back by Santana one pitch before he launched a line-drive home run to right field.
The Yankees took the lead for good in the bottom of the third on an RBI single by 24-year-old first baseman Greg Bird. Gardner helped New York add insurance runs in the fourth, when he blooped a single to left field to set the table for Judge's two-run blast that extended the lead to 7-4.
The efforts by Gardner didn't surprise Twins manager Paul Molitor, a Hall of Fame player who made 1,570 starts out of the leadoff spot.
"I think he understands that he's a leader," Molitor said. "He's just got a game that I think (is) a little bit old-school and I think it fits the New York fan's profile. That's the kind of guy you want to have out there."
Then, as well as now. Gardner, who was still wearing his uniform as he clutched an empty bottle of champagne during interviews in a soaked Yankees clubhouse, certainly looked and sounded as if he appreciated New York's first postseason win in five years more than anyone else.
"Maybe the biggest game I've ever played in," Gardner said. "You kind of take for granted early in your career, when you're going to the playoffs and you just kind of expect it to happen every year. But recently, things haven't been that way around here. Just a lot of fun tonight. A great atmosphere, and I'm glad things worked out in our favor."