Saturday, 27 August 2016
Gary Sanchez Homers Again as Yankees Gain in Wild-Card Race
At some point, on some future day, Gary Sanchez will no longer be the hottest hitter in baseball. He will regress into the promising player he was assumed to be when the Yankees called him up this month, rather than the dominant force he has become since joining them. Sanchez will, most likely, stop hitting like Barry Bonds in pinstripes.
That day, however, has not come just yet. Instead, Sanchez, 23, remains on his torrid streak. His debut month has been one for history, and it only got better Saturday. He hit another home run, his 11th this month, in the fourth inning of the Yankees’ 13-5 home victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
Unlike his previous home runs, it was no moonshot, just a defensive swing with two strikes that sent a 94-mile-per-hour fastball from Dylan Bundy skimming over the right-field wall. It was one of six homers in the game, but the only one to bring on a curtain call, with the fans at Yankee Stadium chanting Sanchez’s name for a second straight day.
It continued a remarkable stretch for Sanchez, and the Yankees. After going without a home run in his first 27 major league plate appearances this year, he has hit 11 in his last 63 appearances and nine in his last 10 games. He now has more homers with the Yankees than he hit in four months in Class AAA, and he has reached that total faster than any player in major league history.
“It was great,” Sanchez said of setting the record, speaking through an interpreter after the game. “Let’s see if I can keep on going.”
And in the midst of all that, the Yankees continue to pull closer to a wild card. They have scored 27 runs in two games against the Orioles and piled up 18 hits in each one. Starlin Castro had four hits, including his 18th homer of the year, and three runs batted in.
Their victory over their American League East rivals lifted the Yankees to two and a half games behind Baltimore for the final A.L. postseason spot, though they were separated by two other teams. The Yankees are a season-high six games over .500 and have been on an upswing since completing three major deals before the trade deadline that were widely perceived as a decision to put aside serious playoff hopes for 2016 and look to rebuilding for the future.
“That’s what you think when they trade Beltran, Miller and Chapman,” Chad Green, the Yankees’ starting pitcher Saturday, said of Carlos Beltran, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. “You think they’re giving up, but we still have great players in here.”
Sanchez has been the brightest among them. He signed with the Yankees at age 16 out of the Dominican Republic, earning a $3 million signing bonus that was then the largest the Yankees had ever paid to an amateur international free agent.
He was one of the Yankees’ top prospects entering this year, and a top-100 talent among minor league systems across the sport, according to scouting publications. Although he made his debut in the majors on the second-to-last day of the 2015 season, he did not gain a starting job until the organization promoted him on Aug. 2. Since then, he has been a challenging matchup for opposing pitchers.
Still, the Yankees have seen this before, or at least a close approximation. Twenty-six years ago, Kevin Maas made his debut for the club and hit 10 homers in his first 79 at-bats. Buck Showalter, the Orioles’ manager and a coach on the Yankees’ staff in 1990, thought of him Friday night as he watched Sanchez.
“What happened to Kevin?” he asked before the game Saturday. “How did that work out?”
Maas turned out to be a supernova. He was promoted to the Yankees at 25 and never played a game in the majors after 30. He hit just 55 more homers, and his career wound down with stops in the minor leagues and in Japan.
Sanchez, however, comes with a more significant pedigree. While his power is evident, his defensive skills as a catcher and his strong arm — he has thrown out six of the nine base runners who have tried to steal on his watch — have drawn praise from, among others, Showalter, who also warned against placing high expectations on a young player.
“You worry about so many situations up here — not just in New York, but everywhere — they run them so quick up the flagpole and threw all these expectations that nobody can meet,” Showalter said. “Sometimes, the adulation, all the stuff that happens, it’s kind of like eating your young. Just let him be. He’s a good defender, so he’s not going to have an issue.”
It has been “fun to watch,” he added about the start to Sanchez’s major league career. “For somebody.”
Showalter’s lack of enthusiasm is understandable. The Orioles have lost six of their past nine games and have fallen into a funk this month that has cost them the lead in the A.L. East. Now the Yankees are among the teams nipping at their heels for the final playoff berth.
The Yankees’ offense has been revived in that time, turning a yawning, aging lineup into a formidable one despite the loss of Beltran, their lone offensive All-Star. The catalyzing factor has been obvious, even if neither Sanchez nor his teammates can quite explain his feats.
“It’s unbelievable,” Castro said about Sanchez’s streak. “It’s unbelievable.