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Didi Gregorius broke out of slump in a big way

Yankees' Didi Gregorius doubles off Minnesota Twins pitcher

Yankees' Didi Gregorius doubles off Minnesota Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson driving in two runs in the first inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, July 23, 2019. Credit: AP/Tom Olmscheid

BOSTON – Didi Gregorius couldn’t have done much more than he did Tuesday night in the Yankees' 14-12 victory over the Twins. The shortstop went 5-for-5 and drove in seven runs in the crazy, 10-inning game.  

But the faux gold-plated championship belt awarded nightly in the clubhouse to the player deemed the biggest contributor in a Yankees' win went elsewhere, which Gregorius had no issue with.

After all, the belt landed in the locker belonging to Aaron Hicks, who hit the go-ahead, two-run homer with two outs in the top of the ninth. Then, after Aroldis Chapman blew the save in the ninth, Hicks dove to make a game-saving catch in left-center on Max Kepler's bases-loaded drive with two outs in the 10th.

“Even if I would have gotten [the belt], I would have given it to Hicks,” a smiling Gregorius said. “He made a game-saving catch and he hit the homer. He helped us pretty big.”

But Gregorius would score the hardware Wednesday night, going 3-for-5 with three RBIs in a 10-7 victory, completing a two-game stretch in which he went 8-for-10 with a homer, three doubles and 10 RBIs.

“He’s been incredible,” said J.A. Happ, who was not good Wednesday night, when he allowed six runs and six hits in 3 1/3 innings but avoided taking a loss in part because of Gregorius’ performance. “We were kind of joking after the game, he didn’t get the belt the first night, but he finally got it tonight and that might have been his worst game.”

Happ laughed at his use of the word “worst.”

“He’s been so good for us,” Happ said. “He’s been really impressive. When he gets hot, it’s something to watch.”

For Gregorius, far more significant than the belt, of course, was the blistering two-game stretch, one he hopes is the start of putting a lengthy slump behind him.

Gregorius, who had Monday off, entered the series in Minnesota hitting .252 with a .674 OPS. He left it hitting .293 with an .808 OPS.

"It was good for me," Gregorius said. "I needed that to go one step in the right direction. I was hitting the ball all over the place, so that's one thing I can look at from this series."

Red Sox manager Alex Cora saw it. Before his team started a four-game series against the Yankees Thursday night, Cora recalled his days as an analyst with ESPN.

“It’s funny, because on national TV, like five years ago, I said that Didi Gregorius is one of the reasons the Yankees took off, and I got crushed,” Cora said. “That was the year after Jeter retired and they took it like I was just pushing aside Derek, and that wasn’t the case. He’s a good player, man. He’s a solid player, and offensively he’s transformed his game.”

Hicks went 4-for-10 with two homers and four RBIs in the final two games of the series. He shook his head at Gregorius’ performance, not that it was unexpected.  

“He just started being himself again,” Hicks said. “Starting to be calm at the plate, not really swinging at too many balls, being able to hit the ball hard and hit it all over the place is pretty much what I see.”

As Gregorius said, things had not been going well for him before Tuesday. He came into the night hitting .227 (22-for-97) with a .621 OPS in his previous 24 games, with four homers, two doubles, 13 RBIs and 16 strikeouts.  

“He's using the entire field," manager Aaron Boone said. "You look at all his hits the last couple of days, it's with authority from line to line. But I just think he's getting really good balance and he's getting off his 'A' swing a lot. And when he does that, he can get as hot as anyone.”

With David Lennon

New York Sports