Watch out, October, here come the new Baby Bombers

ByColey Harvey ESPN logo
Sunday, September 30, 2018

BOSTON -- Back in late March when the New York Yankees were opening the regular season in Toronto, Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar were still 2,200 miles away.

Both were in Tampa, Florida, left behind to wrap up their spring training work with other Yankees minor leaguers. Without invitations to join the big league roster, they were to head north a few days later for the start of the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders' season.

Who, then, could have foreseen any of what was coming off the bats of both players in the big leagues?

Well, Reggie Jackson sort of did (more on that later). But even Mr. October, in March, could not have expected the scenario that played out Saturday, when the Yankees' two young infielders -- called up within five weeks of Opening Day -- played key roles in setting a pair of major league and franchise records.

In back-to-back innings of an otherwise meaningless final-week game, both rookies slugged a pair of extra-base hits that put them in the Yankees' record books.

Rest assured, it won't be the last time either of their names goes down in Yankees lore. The Bronx Bombers certainly hope that isn't the case, particularly with the postseason looming.

"They just really have not only been impact players, but just been impressive with how they've gone about it and handled every situation," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.

During the Yankees' 8-5 win at Fenway Park over the Red Sox in the penultimate game of the regular season, Torres hit a 93.7 mph two-seam fastball into the Red Sox bullpen to give the Yankees the single-season major league home run record.

His home run was the team's 265th, surpassing the previous record of 264 set by the 1997 Seattle Mariners. The Yankees later hit one more home run in the game.

"Everybody knew what was the number," said Torres, who excitedly pumped his fist a few times as he rounded first base.

The homer also marked the 20th the Yankees had hit from the No. 9 spot in their batting order, making them the first team in big league history to have players hit 20 or more homers from all nine places in the lineup.

It was also Torres' 24th homer of the season. Although the second baseman began the season in Triple-A, he ended up making his major league debut on April 22. He hit his first walk-off homer less than three weeks later.

An inning after Torres' important homer, Andujar followed with a double down the left-field line that broke a tie he'd reached with Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio. It was Andujar's 45th double of the season, giving him the most doubles for a Yankees rookie since DiMaggio hit 44 in 1936. When your name becomes synonymous with a baseball icon, you're doing something impactful.

"I'm just trying to hit the ball hard and get a good pitch to hit, hit it hard somewhere," the Dominican-born Andujar said through an interpreter. "If it falls in the gap, I'm going to keep running."

Doubles aren't the only hits that have been falling for Andujar since he made his early Yankees appearance on April 1. He entered Saturday leading all rookies in hits, doubles, RBIs, extra-base hits, multihit games and homers. He also ranked second among all rookies in batting average and runs scored.

To Andujar, there isn't a single one of those figures that's more impressive than the others.

"You look at all the numbers and you get excited about all of them," Andujar said. "I'm doing good -- I'm helping the team. So I'm excited for an opportunity to be here in general."

It was thanks to an opening-week oblique scare to outfielder Aaron Hicks (an injury he got over within days) that allowed Andujar to join the big league club much earlier than expected. Following the April 1 call-up, Andujar stuck. Less than a week later, when the starting third baseman at the time, Brandon Drury, opened up about problems he occasionally had playing with blurred vision, Andujar was inserted regularly into the lineup. He hasn't looked back since.

As Andujar closes down a potential Rookie of the Year campaign, he's batting .297 with 27 homers and 46 doubles (he added another in the ninth inning). With the Yankees heading into Wednesday's American League wild-card game, they'll be looking for him to continue doing damage at the plate.

Perhaps the first person to have publicly announced an expectation of the kind of success Andujar has enjoyed at this point is the aforementioned Jackson. The Hall of Famer tweeted in March 2014 that he predicted Andujar would be a "special player for the yanks in a couple years."

Mr. October appears to be right.

While Andujar has long maintained that his focus is on helping his team win, and not on any individual awards he might receive this postseason, he does admit that it's nice to be turning heads. He just hopes those heads remain turned for years to come.

"Don't want to stop there," Andujar said. "You want to keep on doing better things. I want to have a long career. So that being said, the work doesn't stop. It keeps going. You've got to try to keep getting better."

Boone believes that's exactly what will happen for both of his rising superstars.

"First it speaks to their talent, but also I think of who they are," Boone said. "To come into this kind of situation and really thrive and go through all the ups and downs that happen over the course of the year and show the ability to constantly make adjustments?

"Just really proud of the season they've been able to turn in at this point."

After Sunday, though, a new season begins. When the postseason starts, the Yankees expect the rookie pair to be every bit as dependable then as they have been all along.

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