Didi Gregorius dazzles in field, at plate in Yankees' win

ByColey Harvey ESPN logo
Sunday, August 12, 2018

NEW YORK -- CC Sabathia, a 17-year veteran who has pitched with the likes of Omar Vizquel and Derek Jeter behind him, called the slide, snag and strong throw he witnessed Sunday "one of the better plays I've ever seen at shortstop."

The man who made it, normally hesitant to discuss anything related to himself, even had to admit the play was the best of his young career.

"It was some awkward movement going on there, so I started laughing when I saw the [replay] video," New York Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius said of the fifth-inning grounder he speared and fired to first to get the extraordinarily quick Delino DeShields. "But I got the out, that's what's important."

Gregorius didn't just get that out, dazzling his starting pitcher and thousands of others at Yankee Stadium in the process. He had an array of other head-turning plays and added a home run at the plate in the Yankees' 7-2 win over the Texas Rangers. The series-clinching victory propelled New York to its sixth win in seven games.

Even with this recent winning, the second-place Yankees are still a whopping 9 games back of first-place Boston in the American League East.

As for Gregorius, Yankees manager Aaron Boone counts himself among those who are continually wowed by his shortstop's almost daily exploits. When he saw Gregorius break into the backhand slide with the electrifying DeShields flying down the first-base line, Boone was ready to shake his head in disappointment.

"I was like, 'No, no, can't go to the ground,'" Boone said.

But as quickly as Gregorius went to the ground, he popped up even faster, getting to his feet with enough stability to uncork, in a single -- albeit awkward -- motion, a throw that narrowly got the speedy runner.

"He pulls it off and I just, I think I left the top of the dugout," Boone said. "He made some unbelievable plays all day."

As it regularly does with Gregorius, near disappointment gave way to sheer disbelief.

Gregorius' steady and stellar defensive play has helped set a tone within the Yankees' clubhouse upon which Sabathia places tremendous value.

"What he's done to turn around this team and the rebuilding, he's been the No. 1 key," said Sabathia, who tossed six innings of one-hit ball against the Rangers. He induced five ground balls that Gregorius handled flawlessly.

Traded to New York from Arizona following the 2014 season, Gregorius was viewed as a possible option to replace future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter. It was certainly a tall order, but one the Yankees believed would one day pan out.

After a somewhat pedestrian first season in pinstripes in 2015, Gregorius has consistently been one of the club's most impactful players. Since his nine-homer, 56-RBI season in 2015, the shortstop has had three 20-homer seasons, including this one, and has not had a regular-season OPS lower than .751.

"It's been since he got here and taking over for who he took over for, and being able to have three 20-homer seasons in a row, it's just incredible," Sabathia said. "If he wouldn't have came in and did what he did the last three or four years, we'd still be talking about Jeet and how we need leadership and all that stuff.

"But he's erased that. So you've got to give him credit for that."

Told what Sabathia said about him, Gregorius was humbled.

"I appreciate that," he said. "I'm just here to do my job as best as I can. Not every day is going to be my day. There's still room for improvement, but I really appreciate what he's saying. I'm always out there, always fighting for the team no matter what."

Yankees, young and old alike, consider the 28-year-old Gregorius to be one of the more important voices the team has.

"He's huge, for the veterans and the young guys," center fielder Aaron Hicks said. "He helps all of us out, no matter if we're a position player or not. He's able to help us out and keep us all even."

Along with his sharp play in the field, Gregorius hit a fifth-inning home run to right that extended New York's lead to 6-0. The two-run lined shot was his 21st homer of the season, just four shy of the career-high 25 he hit last year.

"He's just really steady. He's really a go-to guy for us," Boone said. "There's just kind of a blue-collar, lunch pail [way of doing things]. He's tough. He's able to play through things. He's durable.

"There's a calm about him. There's a 'I want the ball hit to him' kind of feeling about him. But he doesn't get too high or too low emotionally. He kind of brings the same attitude. There's a way he goes about playing the game that I just have a lot of respect for."

The regularity with which Gregorius makes the kind of jaw-dropping play he did Sunday provides a peace of mind to those who play around him.

"When it's hit to Didi, it's pretty much an out every time," catcher Austin Romine said. "What we saw [Sunday] is what he's been doing all year for us, which is saving pitchers pitches, making outs that maybe some people can't make.

"He's one of the elite shortstops in this game, and we got to see a glimpse of what he's been doing all year."

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