CLEVELAND — Nope.
A free car (just kidding) to anyone out there who can prove he or she saw this coming from Didi Gregorius when he became Derek Jeter’s successor nearly three years ago.
Two homers and three RBIs off the likely Cy Young Award winner, plus the critical defense we all could envision, in a loser-goes-home playoff game? This doesn’t shock the 2014 you?
As Congressman Joe Wilson once told President Obama: You lie.
What we’re seeing from Gregorius is nothing short of riDidiculous.
One of the least likely successes in the Yankees’ storied history moves forward thanks to one of their most remarkable comebacks, and Gregorius deserves as much credit as anyone on the roster. The shortstop’s early power display held up thanks to some spectacular pitching, and the Yankees’ 5-2 victory over the Indians in ALDS Game 5 Wednesday night at Progressive Field completed a climb out of an 0-2 hole — against the reigning AL champion and top AL seed Cleveland, for crying out loud — and sends them to the AL Championship Series against the Astros, with Game 1 scheduled for Friday night at Minute Maid Park.
“There’s a lot of times guys put a label on a person without letting the person develop,” a champagne-soaked Gregorius said after the game. “They always predict something before everything. ‘This guy can only play defense,’ or ‘This guy can only play offense.’ But you don’t know how hard a guy works to get where he wants to be, to stay where he wants to be and to keep making adjustments every year to try to get better.”
He backed up such inspirational words with an inspirational performance, right from the beginning. With two outs in the first inning, Gregorius cracked a navel-high, 1-and-2, two-out fastball from Indians starter Corey Kluber into the right-field stands for an instant 1-0 lead. Then, in the third, with Brett Gardner on first base and one out, Gregorius golfed an 0-and-1 curveball into a similar spot in the stands for a 3-0 advantage over the Klubot. The crowd of 37,802 seemingly couldn’t believe what it just saw.
“Didi’s at-bats have been great all year,” Joe Girardi said. “He drove in almost 90 runs and missed a month of the season. It’s pretty remarkable, the season that he’s had for us.”
When Terry Francona lifted Kluber in the fourth inning and the Indians’ bullpen kept the game close, Gregorius delivered on defense, too. After four brilliant innings, Yankees starter CC Sabathia hit trouble in the fifth, allowing four straight one-out singles that plated two runs. Girardi called upon David Robertson, and the veteran setup man got leadoff hitter Francisco Lindor to ground hard to Gregorius, who cleanly fielded the ball, stepped on second base and threw to first for the inning-ending double play.
Offensively and defensively, he’s been great all year for us,” Sabathia said of Gregorius. “Really, taking over for [Derek] Jeter, he’s been awesome. It’s great to see him have this sort of game tonight.”
Do you remember when the Yankees acquired Gregorius from Arizona in November 2014? Some folks were upset the team surrendered Shane Greene, the pitcher who had performed impressively as a rookie, in the three-way trade. Go ahead and look up how Greene has done since. Even those who supported the deal figured the Yankees were acquiring a nice, athletic player who certainly would be a defensive upgrade over the past-his-prime Jeter and could perhaps develop into a league-average hitter.
If you foresaw Gregorius breaking Jeter’s single-season home-run record by a shortstop, as he did by going deep 25 times this season, or if you knew he would become a clubhouse leader and fan darling thanks to his embrace of social media, you’re better than The Post.
If you thought he would do something in his seventh career postseason game that Jeter never accomplished in 158 career postseason games — going yard twice — you might want to consider a career as a professional soothsayer.
“It’s one of the big moments of my career,” Gregorius said. “I tried to help the team and came up big right there with two home runs.”
What a trade for the Yankees. What a season. What an ALDS. What a ride for the shortstop and his team, with a decent chance that we haven’t even seen their best yet.
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