Batting with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning, Gardner slapped a game-winning RBI single through the left side of the infield, scoring Jayson Nix from third and handing New York a 4-3 walk-off win over Detroit.
"It's good to pick [Rivera] up like that," Gardner said. "He probably won't do it again the rest of the season. He'll probably reel off 15, 20 straight until the end of September."
The Yankees looked poised to secure their victory long before Gardner's extra-inning heroics. He had gone 2-for-4 with two runs scored, helping New York hand Rivera a two-run lead in the ninth inning.
But for the second straight game, Rivera couldn't record the save. He gave up a one-out double to Austin Jackson before getting Torii Hunter to ground out, setting up a two-out matchup with third baseman Miguel Cabrera.
After fouling two straight pitches off his left leg and limping around home plate, Cabrera rewarded himself with a jog around the bases. Rivera could only turn toward center field and mouth "wow" as the mammoth game-tying blast landed in Monument Park.
"He was kind of like limping," Rivera said. "To hit the ball out like that? It's amazing."
The Yankees had a chance to put away Cabrera earlier in the at-bat, but first baseman Lyle Overbay couldn't make a play on a foul pop that landed in the Yankees' dugout, a play he thought he should have made.
"It almost cost us the game," Overbay said.
Gardner and the Yankees picked up Rivera and Overbay an inning later, though. Nix -- who was batting in Rodriguez's spot in the lineup after replacing him defensively in the ninth inning -- walked to lead off the 10th, moved to second on Curtis Granderson's single, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Gardner's hit.
Playing in his first home game of the season after coming off the disabled list -- and being handed a suspension for his involvement with Biogenesis -- Rodriguez went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and a flyout, hearing a mixture of boos and cheers from the sellout crowd before being replaced by Nix.
"Alex has had to deal with stuff before. He's been booed before," manager Joe Girardi said. "He knows what he has to do, and I expect him to do it."
It was a game the Yankees could ill afford to lose, especially after getting yet another stellar start from Nova. The right-hander didn't look as sharp to start this game as he did in recent outings, but he was effective nonetheless. He struck out designated hitter Victor Martinez and left fielder Andy Dirks to end a bases-loaded threat in the first inning, and he stranded two runners in scoring position in the second.
Overall, he stranded nine over the first five innings, posting his sixth consecutive quality start, giving up just up one run on eight hits over seven strong innings.
"He pitched very well," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He did what we expected. When he got in a jam, he went to his curveball, and it's a real good one. We just didn't do much with it."
Nova also got some defensive help from Ichiro Suzuki, who made a tremendous grab against the right-field wall to take a hit from Cabrera in the third inning.
Nova is now 3-2 with a 1.60 ERA and 44 strikeouts over his past six starts.
"I've been pitching really good," Nova said. "I've been feeling really good with all of my pitches, working both sides of the plate to righties and lefties, and getting quick outs."
Nova also got some early help from the offense, a welcome occurrence for a pitcher who had only gotten three runs of support in his last three starts combined. The Yankees got to Detroit starter Rick Porcello early, with Gardner scoring on Alfonso Soriano's groundout for a one-run lead in the first inning.
Second baseman Robinson Cano provided the big blow in the third inning, hitting a two-run double to left-center to score Gardner and Suzuki and give New York a three-run cushion.
"I hope it jump-starts it a lot," Girardi said. "We need to win series. We need to win a lot of games moving forward."
The Yankees weren't able to get a win for Nova, but they were able to secure a much-needed victory and snap a four-game losing streak.
Now they just have to do it again on Saturday.
"We haven't been playing good baseball the past couple of months, and sometimes you've got to keep winning or you'll be out of it," Gardner said. "I think everybody in this room kind of feels the same way. We have to come in every day and work hard and really focus on one thing, and that's grinding out a win."