NEW YORK -- A day before he put pen to paper, before he could put on a Major League uniform for the first time in three years, Brian Gordon went to a field across the street from Yankee Stadium.
Thirty-two years old and not yet officially a Yankee, Gordon tossed with baseball operations assistant Brett Weber, catching the eye of one passerby who stopped to say Gordon had a nice arm.
Unbeknownst to that observer, Gordon would take the mound one block over for the real thing the next day.
The New York-born, Texas-raised Gordon gave the Yankees everything they could have hoped for, and then some, in his first career start Thursday against the Rangers, a 3-2, 12-inning win that completed a three-game sweep and made this 10-game homestand a winning one after it began with three straight losses.
Brett Gardner won the game with a one-out single off Michael Kirkman in the 12th, driving home Curtis Granderson for the game-winning run, Gardner's third career walk-off RBI.
"Unbelievable," said Gardner, who once again did not start against a left-hander, but came off the bench to go 2-for-2. "[Gordon] turns up; nobody even knew who he was, to be honest. But he took the mound for us today and gave us six strong innings, threw the ball great, really had command of all his pitches. He stayed ahead and gave us a chance to win. It was great."
Gordon, who was signed Thursday, started the game that Cory Wade, called up before Wednesday's game, ended up winning by pitching perfect 11th and 12th innings. Wade notched his first win in two years.
Gordon gave him the chance to do that with 5 1/3 strong innings. His first pitch as a Yankee, a 91-mph fastball that went off Ian Kinsler's bat and into Granderson's glove in center, came at 1:08 p.m. One-hour and 43-minutes later, he walked off the field to a standing ovation with two runs allowed and 84 pitches under his belt.
"He located," Texas' David Murphy said. "He's not your ideal big league pitcher, but he's obviously been in this game a long time. Being around so long, you know he's a fighter. He's got a bulldog mentality."
Six of Gordon's family members were on hand to witness that mentality, the one that told him not to give up after grinding through 15 Minor League seasons, a cup of coffee in the Majors, and one major position switch.
Manager Joe Girardi assured Gordon, a converted outfielder, that he would start Tuesday's game at Cincinnati, asking him if he had picked up a bat in a while.
"You spend 10 years grinding it out, and then you decide to pitch, and now you get your first Major League at-bat," Gordon said with a laugh. "I guess that's the way I like to operate."
Gordon considered retiring after that 10th year, in 2006, before he asked Jackie Moore, his manager at Triple-A Round Rock, then a part the Astros' organization, if he could take the mound the following season.
Moore, now Texas' bench coach, was receptive of the request, and by that spring Gordon was working with Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan on a switch that would eventually land him a shot at the big leagues.
"I just wanted to have fun with it," Gordon said of his decision to persevere. "I knew I was at peace with retirement, but I knew also I'd kick myself in the butt if I never gave pitching a chance, laying my head down every night just wondering. That would eat me up."
Gordon cruised through the first four innings on just 49 pitches before running into trouble in the fifth, surrendering an RBI double to Kinsler that tied the game. With two outs and the bases loaded, he hit his second batter of the game, Adrian Beltre, in the left elbow with a 68-mph curveball, making it 2-1 Rangers.
Jorge Posada ensured that Gordon would not lose his debut by driving home Robinson Cano with an RBI double in the sixth to tie the game at 2. Cano scored the Yankees' first run in the second inning on a Russell Martin single.
Hector Noesi, the other candidate to start Thursday's game in place of the injured Bartolo Colon, pitched 1 2/3 shutout innings. David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth and Mariano Rivera pitched scoreless ninth and 10th innings.
Gordon's only previous Major League experience came with the Rangers in 2008, a three-appearance stint that saw him give up one run and three hits over four innings.
"I think the Good Lord's got a sense of humor," he said of facing his former team.
Gordon clawed his way back to this moment by going 5-0 this season with an International League-best 1.14 ERA for Triple-A Lehigh Valley in the Phillies' organization.
The Phillies sent out a league-wide e-mail last week notifying clubs that Gordon was available, and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman contacted them.
Gordon was notified that he would be a Yankee on Tuesday night, entered the stadium for the first time Wednesday, and received a tour before beginning his first day in pinstripes at 9:50 a.m. Thursday, when he walked into a near-empty clubhouse and settled next to the locker of Amauri Sanit, who was released later in the day to make room on the 40-man roster for the newcomer.
Gordon struggled to find words to describe entering the clubhouse for the first time.
"I got chills," he said, shaking his head. "It was special. It was just unbelievable because to me, this is like the greatest stage in baseball, and you're one of the five guys."
Cashman said before the game that the odds were against the Yankees for Thursday, before adding, "but it's baseball, anything can happen."
Even a 15-year Minor Leaguer saving the day for the most storied franchise in the Majors.
Matt Fortuna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.