The only name linked to Gary Sanchez, or more like chained to him, in recent weeks had been that of Yankees backup catcher Austin Romine. And the persistent drumbeat of that debate centered around why Romine should be starting over Sanchez, whose spotty glovework behind the plate was being blamed for everything from passed balls to global warming.
But after two mighty swings during Saturday night’s Game 2 of the Division Series, Sanchez now is more prominently tied to someone else in the Yankees’ catching pantheon, the immortal Yogi Berra.
When Sanchez launched a thunderous three-run homer into the light stanchion above the Green Monster, a ridiculous 479 feet from home plate, he joined Berra as the franchise’s only two catchers with multihomer games in the postseason. The seventh-inning blast iced a 6-2 Yankees victory that evened the series as it heads to the Bronx for Monday’s Game 3.
“I definitely didn’t know that,” Sanchez said through his interpreter. “But I can tell you it’s an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as him, a legend of baseball.”
Hard to believe. After all the public outcry over the Yankees’ stubbornness in sticking with Sanchez, he ultimately muscled up with the sort of power display team officials swore he’d deliver this October, and which hadn’t been done since Berra went deep twice in Game 7 of the 1956 World Series.
There were plenty of Sanchez believers sharing the clubhouse with him, too.
Dellin Betances, whose nasty slurve makes him one of the more vexing pitchers to handle, relayed a conversation they had toward the end of the regular season, when the reliever told Sanchez that the playoffs represented a chance at a clean slate.
“This is where it counts,” Betances recalled telling him, and the two talked again on the ride to Fenway before Saturday night’s game. Sanchez owns Sox starter David Price, and Betances noticed the confidence.
“I could just tell,” Betances said. “I had a feeling today was going to be a good day for him.”
Good doesn’t begin to adequately describe it, and to say Sanchez rewarded the Yankees’ faith in him would be underselling the accomplishment. Let’s put it another way: He basically saved the series for them, as his three-run blast in the seventh finally cracked the surprisingly efficient Red Sox bullpen and gave the Yankees a 6-1 lead.
“I enjoyed it,” Aaron Boone said. “A little exhale at that point.”
To appreciate just how far 479 feet is, that homer traveled the farthest of Sanchez’s career, besting his previous mark by 18 feet, and also was the longest at Fenway Park in the Statcast era (dating to 2015), topping Hanley Ramirez’s 469-footer last season.
For bragging purposes, Sanchez also outdrove Aaron Judge, who smashed a 445-foot homer about halfway up the centerfield flagpole in the first inning.
“Everybody knows that Judge has way more power than me,” Sanchez said, smiling. “I don’t have to tell that to anybody. But a homer is a homer. And if we have the opportunity to score runs like that, even if it’s 300 feet, I’ll take it.”
Only a day earlier, Brian Cashman was asked if Sanchez would rebound next season, with the assumption that the .186 hitter already was a lost cause for the remainder of this one.
Initially, the general manager wasn’t sure how to answer, given that the question was posed just hours before Game 1 of the Division Series at Fenway Park.
“I believe in the player, clearly, and next season’s now,” Cashman said. “October is the second season, so I’m hoping we’ll see what we’re used to seeing from Gary, which is a great player.”
Cashman’s words turned out to be prophetic. After absorbing so much abuse for his MLB-leading 18 passed balls (in only 76 games) during the regular season, Sanchez needs to be merely trustworthy as a backstop as long as his bat can wreck games, as he did in making history Saturday night.
Sanchez was the first Yankee with at least four RBIs in a playoff game since Robinson Cano had six in the 2011 ALDS, and the first to do it on the road since Melky Cabrera in the 2009 ALCS in Anaheim. Sanchez continued his destruction of Price, and his six homers and 12 RBIs (.462 BA) are his most against any pitcher.
So far, this October is shaping up as the ideal redemption story for Sanchez, and the Yankees have never needed him more. With Giancarlo Stanton AWOL in this series, Judge can’t do it alone, and Saturday night is when Sanchez stepped up to make his presence felt.
“They have a lot of confidence in me,” he said, “and I have it, too.”
No offense to Romine, but Sanchez is just fine where he is, doing damage to the Red Sox rather than his own reputation.