Once again, the Yankees had a different first baseman. This one made a stirring debut.
Ji-Man Choi hit a 457-foot home run in his first major league game as a Yankee Wednesday and immediately gained an admirer from someone who specializes in the long ball.
“That was awesome, see how far he hit that ball? That was incredible.’’ The speaker was Aaron Judge, who hit his league-leading 29th homer in a 7-6 loss to the Blue Jays.
The lefthanded hitting Choi, 26, was signed to a major league contract by the Yankees from Triple-A Scranton / Wilkes-Barre. He became the 10th player to be used at first base for the Yankees this season. His fifth-inning homer into the rightfield seats cut the Yankees’ deficit to 5-4. They scored two more runs in the inning to take a 6-5 lead.
“I wish we had won the game today, I wish we had played better as a team,’’ the South Korean-born Choi said through a translator. “But for me I’m happy with the start I had and I’m looking forward to building on what I did today.
“I wasn’t even trying to hit a home run. I was trying to put some good wood on the ball. I was pleased with the distance it went.’’
Asked if he was intrigued by how far it traveled, Choi gave a Judge-like response, saying, “As long as it goes over the wall it all counts the same. All I care about is that it clears the wall.’’
At Triple-A, Choi hit .289 with eight homers and 43 RBIs. He waited his turn behind, to name a few, Greg Bird, Chris Carter and Tyler Austin. Bird and Austin are injured and Carter has twice been designated for assignment.
“I’m always optimistic, I look at everything as competition,’’ Choi said. Just perform to the best of my abilities and just wait for my turn to be called up. I think it’s an attitude thing. It’s not only me that’s doing well in the minors that doesn’t get an opportunity. I’ll do my best when I get the call.’’
Choi grounded out in his other three at-bats. Joe Girardi said, “He did fine. He had good at-bats, he hit a ball hard off a lefty [Aaron Loup] as well up the middle. If it’s not kicked by the pitcher it’s probably another base hit. But his at-bats were good.’’
Choi used to be a switch hitter but gave up on the idea. “I tried switch hitting in spring training but I was originally a lefthanded hitter,’’ he said. “I felt good hitting righthanded in spring training but I felt like my left side was getting weaker so I wanted to focus on my strength.’’
Choi, who was originally signed by the Mariners in 2009, made his major league debut with the Angels last season and hit .170 with five homers and 12 RBIs in 54 games.
“I wasn’t consistently in the lineup and I felt like I never got into my groove to perform,’’ Choi said. “I’m very excited to be up here. I honored to be part of the New York Yankees.’’