At first glance, which came two seasons ago, it appeared that Greg Bird would become a fixture at first base for the Yankees. At second glance, two surgeries and nearly two seasons later, he still might be the answer.
Bird’s three-run homer into the second deck in rightfield against the Orioles on Saturday was his second homer in as many games and fourth since he came off the disabled list and returned to the lineup Aug. 26. He has 14 RBIs in 17 games.
Bird no longer is the forgotten Baby Bomber. “Just to be a part of it feels awesome,’’ he said after the Yankees’ 9-3 victory. “Just to be playing feels great. I’ve always wanted to be a part of it. And I am. I feel like I am, so I can’t complain. But it was hard at times watching them, obviously not hard watching them have success, but hard not being a part of it. Just to be able to go out with them now is huge for me.’’
Joe Girardi said the organization had hopes that Bird would return, but he wasn’t sure it would be this season. “We felt like he was going to heal up. How quickly it happened we weren’t sure,’’ he said, “and how quickly he got back into a groove, you’re never sure because he sat out so much. He’s driven in a bunch of runs in the games that he’s played . . . This ballpark plays very favorable to him. His eye’s really good.”
Bird’s Yankees career had brief snapshots. There was his big rookie debut late in the 2015 season when he hit 11 home runs and drove in 31 runs in 46 games to justify his label as one of the Yankees’ untouchable young players.
But he missed the 2016 season after surgery to repair a right labrum tear. That prompted general manager Brian Cashman to sign Chris Carter as Plan B if Bird was not ready.
Bird seemed more than ready as he hit .451 in spring training. But he fouled a ball off his right ankle in the final exhibition game, tried to play through it at the beginning of the season and landed on the disabled list in early May. His stat line at the time: A batting average of .100 with one homer in 19 games. He had surgery on his ankle July 18, with no timetable for returning.
During Bird’s absence, it became a matter of who wasn’t on first for the Yankees. Carter hit .201 with eight homers and, after twice being designated for assignment, was released July 11. Tyler Austin might have seized the position but he also was injured. There were cameo appearances by, to name many, Matt Holliday, Gary Sanchez, Rob Refsnyder, Ji-Man Choi and Garrett Cooper.
Chase Headley became the in-house alternative after the Yankees reportedly failed to land Lucas Duda from the Mets. Bird said he was “grateful’’ that the Yankees did not go outside the organization.
Where would Bird have been if Duda or someone else had been acquired? “It’s part of this, you have to understand that,’’ he said. “It’s a business and they’re in the business of winning, so they have to play who’s doing the job, and when you’re not out there doing it, someone else is. And you have to understand that. So far as worrying about it, I worry about what I have to do. And really, I think that’s the right approach to it.’’