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Chicago — Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has no idea what he’s done to incur the wrath of Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner, but he felt the force of it during the second and third benches-clearing rumbles Thursday.

“I’ve always liked him as a player,” Ausmus said. “I like the way he plays. He grinds out at-bats, he always runs hard to first base. That’s part of the reason why I was surprised he was looking at me like he wanted to strangle me.”

Ausmus started his pregame press conference Friday by strongly denying — as he did repeatedly on Thursday — the claim made by Yankees manager Joe Girardi that he’d cursed at Gardner during the fracas, using the F-word.

“That’s not what happened,” Ausmus said. “I’ve known Joe since 1993 when we were together with the Rockies. I have a lot of respect for Joe. But he had been ejected from the game and he was getting information second-hand. That is not what happened.”

Ausmus explained that in the second benches-clearing altercation, after Girardi had been ejected, he was trying to separate players and make peace when he noticed Gardner glaring at him.

“Like he wanted a piece of me, for whatever reason,” Ausmus said. “I don’t know Brett Gardner. I just filed it away. But I went back to the dugout wondering why? I was trying to figure out what ax he had to grind against me. But then I forgot about it, just figuring it was emotion and adrenaline.”

But, during the last altercation, Ausmus saw Gardner staring menacingly at him again.

“I never said, ‘F-you,’ ” Ausmus said. “What I did say is, ‘Brett, what the F are you looking at?’ That’s what set him off. But for Joe to make that claim I think is a mistake because he got bad information.”

Girardi called Ausmus out during his postgame press conference, which took place roughly the same time that Ausmus was doing his. Ausmus didn’t hear about what was said until after.

“This one upset me because it wasn’t true,” he said. “To make it inflammatory and say something I didn’t, it just sat wrong with me. It made me look like something I’m not and I can’t accept that.

“I have all the respect in the world for Joe Girardi. But I think in this case he was misinformed.”

Twitter: @cmccosky

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