NEW YORK — For the last three months, Greg Bird’s activities consisted of the various tedious things needed to rehab from a bruised right ankle.
That included such things as batting practice, running the bases and fielding ground balls along with two minor league rehab stints and last month’s surgery.
On Saturday, Bird’s responsibilities for the New York Yankees were significantly more enjoyable.
Although Bird did not get the big hit in the Yankees’ 6-3 win over the Seattle Mariners, the first baseman enjoyed a successful return from his lengthy absence.
“I feel fresh, I haven’t really played a whole lot,” said Bird, who was batting .100 (6-for-60) before going on the disabled list.
Playing in the majors for the first time since May 1, Bird reached base three times with a single and a pair of walks. His single in the fourth was his first hit since April 26 at Boston, prompting the Yankee Stadium scoreboard to play a few seconds of the theme song from the 1970s sitcom “Welcome Back Kotter.”
“It’s just fun to play again,” Bird said. “It’s fun to be back in the stadium with the guys.”
Bird scored once on Jacoby Ellsbury’s three-run homer with two outs in the fourth off Yovani Gallardo (5-10) and nearly scored two innings earlier. Third base coach Joe Espada waved him in on Ellsbury’s RBI single to left, but Bird was tagged out as he tried to touch the plate with his hand.
“I was trying to slip my hand in,” Bird said. “I figured that was my best shot. Replays kind of changed that a little bit, so I was trying to be sneaky.”
Despite getting tagged out, it was a good first step for Bird, who not only endured the setbacks but also the criticism from an unnamed Yankee executive on July 7 about his desire to return. Those comments occurred about two weeks before he underwent surgery, which forced a second rehab stint.
“I think he can have a big impact,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of the left-handed-hitting Bird, who hit 11 homers in 46 games two years ago before missing last season recovering from shoulder surgery.
Also giving the Yankees assistance in their eighth win in 12 games were Ellsbury and Sonny Gray.
Ellsbury, who has become the team’s fourth outfielder, produced his fifth career game with at least four RBIs with his single and three-run homer into the right-field seats. Starlin Castro added insurance with a two-run single in the seventh.
Ellsbury’s homer gave the Yankees a 4-1 lead and Gray protected it, allowing one run and three hits in seven innings.
After not getting a strikeout for the first time in any outing Sunday in Boston, Gray fanned nine, including former Oakland teammate Yonder Alonso twice. He also struck out Mitch Haniger twice, including in the sixth after Gray put two on by hitting Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.
Gray (8-8, 2-3 with the Yankees) allowed two earned runs or fewer for the 11th straight start, the longest streak in the majors this season.
Alonso hit the game-winning homer in the 11th Friday off Aroldis Chapman to give Seattle a 2-1 win. Less than 24 hours later, the Mariners were unable to do much offensively and fell to 5-3 on their four-city, 12-game trip that covers 7,500 miles.
“Not a lot going on today, obviously last night kind of an emotional win,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “Coming out today a day game after a big win last night, you got to get after it right away. We just didn’t get much going offensively and a lot had to do with Sonny Gray.”
Carlos Ruiz homered off Gray in the third and the Mariners didn’t score again until getting RBI singles by Seager and Guillermo Heredia in the eighth. Robinson Cano grounded out as a pinch hitter with two on, and Dellin Betances retired the side in the ninth for his 10th save.
Gallardo (5-10) took his third straight loss, allowing four runs and four hits in 5 2/3 innings. He also walked five, including a free pass to Chase Headley before Ellsbury homered.
“I think that’s the frustrating part,” Gallardo said. “You get two quick outs and then you give up a base hit and then I put myself in trouble just trying to be too fine.”
NOTES: Seattle 2B Robinson Cano (mild left hamstring tightness) was not in the starting lineup for the second straight game. He briefly met with manager Scott Servais before the lineup was posted. ... New York 1B/3B Chase Headley made his first start at third base since July 18. ... Yankees RF Aaron Judge batted second for the first time since July 9, and he went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. ... Seattle CF Jarrod Dyson (strained right groin) can come off the disabled list on Sunday, but manager Scott Servais said his return might be delayed a few days.