Photo by Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
By Rich Mancuso
Hold the presses! Gary Sanchez the New York Yankees phenom rookie catcher did not drive the ball out of the yard Sunday afternoon in the Bronx, But the AL Player of the Week went 2-for-4 with a double in the Yankees 5-0 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.
At this rate the 23-year old from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic is due for a bad day at the plate or when handling the Yankees pitching staff behind the dish. But when?
Mark Teixeira said Saturday that “You would walk Babe Ruth with Gary Sanchez on deck.” In this modern era that is possible after Sanchez hit his 11th home run in first 23 games a new Major League record.
And by the time Sanchez retires, which is many miles away, there is no telling how many more records will be achieved. Scouts are amazed at the quick speed when making contact at the plate. Opposing managers are quickly learning that a strong arm and accurate throw make it difficult to get that runner in scoring position at second base.
Not hitting a home run Sunday afternoon could be considered a bad day for Sanchez. He nodded his head, and said through a translator in the Yankees clubhouse, “No,” when asked if there was disappointment in getting two hits and not being able to get his 10th home run
The hesitant no response showed the disappointment and sanchez, like a little kid, bowed his head down and had a smile. . Since his arrival a few weeks ago the Yankees offense has improved and the team has responded to put them in a chase for the second American League wild card spot.
But, it just can’t be Sanchez doing the job down the stretch. The 23-year old catcher was put in the designated hitter role Sunday afternoon and Brian McCann went back behind the plate. The Yankees banged out 27 runs in the first two games against the Orioles but it was a different situation Sunday.
And when Sanchez does not hit a home run ball, even with this new and energized Yankees team, it seems they need more to get the win and keep pace in the all of a sudden wild card chase that was thought to be impossible a few weeks ago.
The youngster has also become an instant fan favorite in the Bronx. The “Bleacher Creatures” a staple of energetic fans out in right-center at Yankee Stadium have made Sanchez a welcome hero. He hears their chants and when in the designated hitter role,Sanchez still hears his name called in the first inning.
“It’s very exciting to hear your name being called out by the fans,” Sanchez said. “It’s a very exciting moment.”
And with every home run, or game moment, it is Sanchez who greets the media by his dressing area in the Yankees clubhouse. It is becoming a daily routine now for Sanchez to be hounded by media before and after a game. Yes, a new star for the Yankees has quickly arrived in the Bronx.
Not that this was unexpected. Sanchez had a taste of the Yankees last September for a few games in the Bronx. Earlier this season, with Teixeira on the disabled list and the Yankees continued offensive struggles, Sanchez was called up from Scranton the Triple-A affiliate of the team.
It was another brief stay. But now, Sanchez is here and has just about displaced Brian McCann and his $30 million dollar salary behind the plate.
“Every time he comes to the plate we feel something good is going to happen,” said the Yankees second baseman Starlin Castro. “
Orioles starter Kevin Gausman won his third straight start and was the culprit that prevented the Yankees from getting the three-game sweep. He tossed 7.0 innings, on seven hits and had nine strikeouts. Oh, and Sanchez was not one of the strikeout victims of Gausman who had a fastball and breaking ball working to perfection.
“This kid has instincts and makes adjustments,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said about Sanchez. His 34 hits in Yankees franchise history are the second highest total in the first 24 games for a player.
So there is something special about a youngster who is making history in the Bronx. More importantly, Sanchez has become vital to the Yankees hopes of making this improbable postseason run to October.
The adjustment is becoming an all-around hitter. Sanchez doubled in his last at bat in the seventh inning. A single to right-center field in the fourth inning was hit hard. and when Sanchez fails to get on base the contact is not soft coming off his bat.
After hitting home runs the past three games, Sanchez is at .404 in 22 games. You can’t expect the youngster to hit a ball out of the yard with every at bat, But the Yankees, and from their expressions on the bench, are all looking for that home run ball off his bat.
Which brings up the prevailing question again, will this streak continue for Gary Sanchez? A reputed scout who charts the Yankees often said, “When the league learns those instincts and Sanchez faces teams a second time around they will know how to pitch him.”
However, that same scout said about Sanchez, “This is common but his age and approach could take time before the league catches up to him. This becomes a mental approach as well, but this kid is a good all-round player with great instincts.”
And the Yankees hope that Gary Sanchez gets another home run streak going in the next week as the September stretch approaches. He has energized a lineup that failed at the plate most of the season and changed their complexion to the better.
And there is excitement in the Bronx because of a kid who one day could get as many home runs as Babe Ruth in Yankees pinstripes.