After watching Didi Gregorius hit two home runs on July 23 in Seattle, CC Sabathia genially interrupted a question based on this assertion:
In this season of Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, perhaps Gregorius’ contributions have gone underappreciated.
“Not to us,” Sabathia said. “We know how good he is. He’s up there with the best shortstops in the league.”
All of that was on full display Friday night as the Yankees, behind terrific all-around work by Gregorius and another sterling performance by ace Luis Severino, took out the Orioles, 8-2, in front of 40,460 at the Stadium.
“He’s always involved in the game,” Severino said of Gregorius. “He always does something in the game to [help win].”
Gregorius drove in four runs, hitting a two-run homer and two sacrifice flies. It gave him 22 homers and 77 RBIs, building on what already were single-season career bests even though he missed the first 20 games of the year with a shoulder injury. His two-run homer off Miguel Castro in the fifth snapped a 2-2 tie.
“To be a championship team, you have to have that,” Joe Girardi said of Gregorius flying under the radar. “There’s always going to be those few guys that get a ton of attention, but it takes a lot more than that to win.”
An ace helps too, and the Yankees clearly have that.
For some reason Girardi continually gets asked who might start a one-game playoff, as if there’s any drama in that call.
Severino improved to 8-2 with a 2.09 ERA in 12 starts since the All-Star break, allowing two runs, three hits and a walk in eight innings. He is 13-6 with a 2.93 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.
Severino was the first to credit his defense, primarily Gregorius, who robbed the Orioles of at least three hits in the game (Girardi put the number at five), including throwing out Trey Mancini from deep in the hole for the second out of the fourth.
“His arm strength is the separator for me,” Chase Headley said. “His arm strength allows him to take routes that other guys can’t take, so that increases his range . . . There’s not many shortstops playing better than him.”
With his usual arsenal featuring 100-mph fastballs and wipeout sliders, Severino struck out seven, giving him 218 strikeouts in 184 1⁄3 innings this season.
After Welington Castillo’s two-out, two-run homer in the second — an opposite-field shot on an 0-and-2 pitch — gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead, Severino retired nine straight before Pedro Alvarez doubled with two outs in the fifth. He retired 10 of the next 11, and the only batter to reach was Jonathan Schoop, who did so on an error by Headley.
“He continues to get better and better,” Girardi said. “You look at the teams in the past that have won, they’ve had true aces. You look at the teams last year in the World Series [Cubs and Indians], there were true aces on the mound that had really big years for their teams. I think it’s really important.”
After Judge worked his American League-leading 111th walk with one out in the fifth in a 2-2 game, Castro retired Sanchez on a tapper that went only inches, but he hung a 0-and-1 slider that Gregorius hammered to right-center for a 4-2 lead.
Sanchez and Headley sandwiched RBI singles around Gregorius’ sacrifice fly in the seventh to make it 7-2. Greg Bird homered off lefty Richard Bleier in the eighth for an 8-2 lead.
The Yankees (81-66) matched their high-water mark for the season at 15 games over .500, last achieved June 12, when they were 38-23. They have won 10 of 13 and lead the Twins, who hold the second wild-card spot, by four games. They had a chance to move within two games of the AL East-leading Red Sox, but Boston scored three runs in the ninth to tie the score at 5-5 and seven runs in the 15th to beat Tampa Bay, 13-6.