Gary Sanchez continues to carve out pieces of history in his rookie season with the Yankees. He homered Saturday, becoming the fifth player to hit at least 13 home runs in his first 35 major-league games, but it was a more esoteric event that sent the media toward him after a 5-1 victory over the Rays at Yankee Stadium.
Sanchez may have become the first Yankee rookie to hit a sacrifice fly on an attempted intentional walk.
Brett Gardner singled and Jacoby Ellsbury doubled to begin the eighth inning, and the righthanded-hitting Sanchez came to bat against lefthanded reliever Enny Romero. With catcher Bobby Wilson moving to his right for the first wide one, Romero lobbed a pitch — timed at 52 mph, according to mlb.com — that sailed close to the plate, and Sanchez smacked it about 400 feet to left-center, where it was caught by Corey Dickerson. Gardner scored and Ellsbury went to third.
Romero told The Associated Press that his hand was sweaty and the ball slipped during his delivery, but he was concerned about committing a balk if he did not throw the pitch. “Yeah, I know I was supposed to throw a base on balls in four pitches, intentional,’’ he said.
“It’s a great job by Gary Sanchez to be ready to hit,’’ Joe Girardi said.
This was the second time Sanchez was in such a situation. It happened in Seattle and he let an easy pitch go by. “You learn your lesson,’’ Girardi said.
“I knew that they were going to walk me, but at the same time, I wanted to be ready just in case I could swing on a pitch,’’ Sanchez said through a translator, “something that I could drive and hopefully score the run from third, and that’s what I did.’’
Referring back to the Seattle series, Sanchez said, “They were walking me, they left a pitch somewhere in the zone. I wasn’t ready. Our hitting coach told me always be ready ’cause you never know. Today I was able to put a good swing on that ball.’’
Said Girardi, “It’s not something that pitchers are doing a lot or are always comfortable with,’’ referring to an intentional walk. “I think you [as a batter] have to be prepared. If they throw it over the plate, it’s probably going to be one of the softer pitches you see in your career.’’
Ellsbury said he was ready to jump off second base, but not because he expected Sanchez to hit the ball. “You’re anticipating maybe a wild pitch or something like that to advance,’’ he said. “You’re not used to seeing someone swing at it. I was ready for it. Didn’t think he was going to swing at it, but you gotta be ready for anything that might happen. It was impressive.’’
Ellsbury, who hit a two-run homer off starting pitcher Chris Archer and went back-to-back with Sanchez, improved his career numbers against the righthander to 19-for-34 (.559).
Archer is 8-18 but has given the Yankees trouble in his career. “It’s one of those things that you know you can’t really put a finger on it, why I had success off of him,’’ Ellsbury said. “He’s a tremendous pitcher with great stuff. Any given night, he can have your number.’’