The rookie torch is passed, and another Yankees star is born
In the wake of the Core Four, are the Yankees giving us the Rookie Rollout?
If you can’t duplicate the introduction of four legends in one season, after all, then why not unleash one legend per season, annually?
Gleyber Torres seems OK with that.
From the makers of Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, here comes Torres, who kept this remarkable Yankees run going Sunday by topping his already phenomenal start. When the second baseman crushed a ninth-inning Dan Otero sinker into the Yankees’ bullpen, giving his team a 7-4 victory to cap a crazy comeback, Torres became the youngest player in the franchise’s storied history to hit a walk-off homer.
The Yankees don’t need no stinking Shohei Ohtani. They might have the American League Rookie of the Year right here already.
“I’m super excited for that,” Torres said, after a raucous home-plate celebration and two Gatorade baths. “Also, I felt better because I helped my team win.”
Torres, at 21 years and 144 days old — a fellow named Mickey Mantle was 21 years and 185 days old when he slugged a walk-off shot against the Red Sox on April 23, 1953 — barely knows what it’s like to lose in the big leagues. He has been on board for all but the first game of this 15-1 stretch, the Yankees’ best 16-game run since they went 15-1 in September 1980.
He owns a .327/.357./500 slash line in his 15 games, and the natural shortstop has played stellar defense at the keystone; he contributed a pair of glove highlights in this game that started as a pitchers’ duel and turned into something much different.
“He’s been special,” rookie Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of his rookie Torres. “Obviously the home run today, but a couple of more special defensive plays, which is now on a nightly basis. He’s a difference-maker on defense.
“…He’s been an impact player for us. What more can you say?”
You can marvel at the player-development machine that the Yankees have become. For so long, the organization seemed to be haunted by the specter of the Core Four’s members Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, all of whom debuted in 1995 and went on to win five championships. That the quartet didn’t simultaneously blossom got lost in time. Yet none of those icons exploded onto the scene, statistically or spiritually, in the same way that Sanchez did in 2016 and Judge did last year.
And now Torres has picked up the baton and sprinted forward, his efforts supplemented by other rookies such as Domingo German, who twirled six no-hit innings Sunday in his first major league start, and Miguel Andujar, who has slowed down after a blistering run at the plate.
“It’s very rare,” said veteran Neil Walker, the longtime second baseman who has been switched to a utility slot thanks to Torres. “[Torres] has stepped into this role and he’s kind of taken off with it, and it’s really impressive.”
After the Indians broke the no-hitter and the shutout with a four-run eighth, the Yankees, countered with a three-run bottom of the eighth, and Walker doubled home Aaron Hicks to tie the score in the ninth. One out later, the Indians intentionally walked pinch-hitter Giancarlo Stanton to go after Torres.
“Stay focused,” Torres said of his approach. “I don’t put too much pressure on myself. Just try to help my team.”
He worked a full count, and then came the homer. Aroldis Chapman, whom the Yankees traded to the Cubs for Torres in 2016 and re-signed the subsequent winter, raised his arms in triumph and stopped warming up for the unnecessary 10th inning.
“He doesn’t even flinch in that moment,” Boone said. “And the approach there, back through the middle, the other way, off Otero, who you know is going to run the sinker in on you, to have an extended at-bat, that’s just a big-boy, mature at-bat from a good hitter. And he hammered that ball.”
If the young man keeps showing off such maturity, this rollout might produce its first payoff come October.
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