Posted by: Mike Cornelius | May 28, 2018

Glory And Gory For Gleyber

It’s a warm Friday night in the Bronx. A crowd of more than 46,000 has filled all three decks at the Stadium, here to welcome the Yankees home from one of the stranger road trips in recent franchise history. Between a pair of scheduled off days and torrential rain in the mid-Atlantic region, the team played just five innings of baseball over the first four days of the journey. A game knotted at three with the Nationals was suspended in the top of the 6th inning, and plans to complete it and play another the following day were washed away by the weather. Then plane trouble forced the Yankees to spend the night at Dulles Airport, before they finally moved on to Kansas City and Texas. At those stops at least New York was able to play its scheduled contests, but in losing the last two games to the Rangers the Yankees dropped a series for the first time in six weeks. On top of that regrettable result more aviation issues followed, with the team’s charter forced to return to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport shortly after takeoff due to mechanical problems.

Now safe in the comfort of home, New York is facing off against the Los Angeles Angels. It’s an important three-game weekend series between two teams with designs on the playoffs, and the opener is unfolding as a taut pitchers’ duel. Yankee ace Luis Severino doesn’t look all that comfortable. He goes to the rosin bag after almost every delivery and he issues four free passes, an uncharacteristically high number. But the 24-year-old has matured quickly from the young hurler who couldn’t win as a starter and was eventually sent back to the minors just two years ago. He finished third in the AL Cy Young voting last season and comes into this game sporting a 7-1 record. Rather than growing frustrated he finds a way to manufacture outs, and holds the Angels to just one run over six innings.

Unfortunately for the Yankees and their faithful followers in the stands, L.A.’s Andrew Heaney matches Severino pitch for pitch, and when he departs with one out in the bottom of the 7th the score is tied 1-1. Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia calls on Jim Johnson to take over, and the tall righty reliever quickly retires Miguel Andujar on a liner to second.

That brings up Gleyber Torres, the 21-year-old second baseman who has quickly gone from highly touted prospect to fan favorite since being called up from AAA Scranton in late April. Torres was the prize the Yankees demanded from the Cubs in the trade deadline deal that sent Aroldis Chapman to Chicago in 2016. After helping the Cubs win a World Series, the fireballing closer returned to the Bronx as a free agent, while Torres worked his way through the Yankees farm system and overcame Tommy John surgery to his non-throwing arm.

Despite his young age and baby face, Torres has been up to the challenge of playing in the big leagues since being called up. He comes into this game batting .323 with an OPS of .998. He is also developing a power stroke, having homered in three straight games and four of the last five. Now he steps in against a veteran reliever looking to end the inning and preserve the tie score. Torres looks at a called strike, and then passes on three straight deliveries from Johnson that are low and away. The reliever’s fifth offering is a 95 mile per hour two-seam fastball that stays over the middle of the plate. Torres swings and the ball leaps off the barrel of the bat, headed toward deep right field. As one the thousands come to their feet and a unified shout begins to build as the line drive rise and the right fielder turns to give chase. But Kole Calhoun’s rapid pursuit quickly turns into a slow jog, for the only person catching this ball will be a fan in the stands. Gleyber Torres is now the youngest American Leaguer to homer in four straight games, and the Yankees have all the runs they need.

It’s a steamy Saturday night in the Bronx. This time 44,500 or so have made their way to the Stadium for the second game of this series. The contest starts well enough for the Yankees, with Brett Gardner lining a leadoff home run into the second deck in right field, and Aaron Judge following with a blast of his own. The back-to-back homers erase an early 1-0 L.A. lead, and New York adds two more in the 2nd when catcher Austin Romine’s drive down the right field line clangs off the foul pole with Andujar aboard. But Sonny Gray is unable to hold the lead. He loads the bases in the top of the 3rd, and then allows a pair of runs on a walk and a sacrifice fly. An inning later he surrenders a three-run homer to Mike Trout that puts the Angels on top 5-4. One batter later Gray’s night is done after just 3 2/3 innings.

Still it’s just a one-run game, and there is plenty of time for the Yankees to rally. Two innings later the score remains 5-4, and Tommy Kahnle walks catcher Jose Bricenco, the Angels’ leadoff batter. But Kahnle gets ahead of Zack Cozart 0-2, and then gets the L.A. second baseman to bounce a routine grounder to third. Andujar field the ball cleanly and whips a throw over to Torres, who is covering second. Bricenco will be out easily and the cheer is already starting because the young Yankee will have plenty of time to throw on to first, completing the ‘round the horn double play.

Except that the throw from Andujar is in Torres’s glove, and then it isn’t. Instead it’s on the ground, rolling slowly away as Bricenco slides into second and Cozart arrives safely at first. The cheer turns into a groan, for instead of two out and nobody on the situation is precisely reversed – no out and two on. The Angels make the most of their unexpected opportunity. Trout follows with an RBI double to left, and after Chris Young walks Albert Pujols delivers a two-run single. Shohei Ohtani grounds into a double play, but while he does so a fourth Angel crosses home plate, and the once close game is now officially out of hand.

Baseball is a team sport, and the Yankees’ rookie second baseman did not win Friday’s game all by himself with his blast to right, nor lose Saturday’s contest with the untimely error that opened the scoring floodgates for the Angels. Rather the offsetting moments, coming so close together in the nascent stage of a promising career, are just simple reminders that the Great Game always has the last word.

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