SAN DIEGO – The big bats the Yankees brought out in Cleveland for the wild-card round and haven’t put away since have appropriately gotten most of the attention during a playoff run that, entering Tuesday night, had them two victories from the ALCS.
It’s almost been enough to overshadow the work of Gio Urshela in the field.
"He’s so good; he’s so good over there," Aaron Boone said after watching Urshela make a handful of highlight plays in his club’s 9-3 victory over the Rays in Game 1 of the Division Series Monday night at Petco Park. "I mean, there are probably three really good plays he made tonight. He’s a lot of fun to watch, the way he plays the position. He's a lot of fun to watch, the way he plays the position. He plays with a joy that's infectious."
As Boone referenced, Urshela, a player the just-retired CC Sabathia once called "the best third baseman I’ve played with," shined in the field in Game 1 (and that was in addition to going 2-for-5 at the plate, which improved Urshela to 5-for-14 this postseason, including the grand slam he hit in the series-clinching wild-card win.
So much to the point the new Yankees ace, Gerrit Cole, practically emoted when talking about Urshela after the game.
"He was just showing off in that inning," Cole laughed.
"That inning" was the second.
Manuel Margot led off with a high chopper down the line that off the bat appeared destined for an infield hit. But Urshela timed his leap perfectly, gloved the ball and threw a dart to clip Margot at first.
Television cameras captured Cole mouth "wow" just after the out was recorded.
"I think he’s really on those balls that go really close to the line, he really has the ability to get to those balls," Masahiro Tanaka said of Urshela through his interpreter on Tuesday. "Also, his throwing, it’s very consistent as well. I think he has made a lot of big plays, including for myself, for the team. He’s obviously a huge part of the team."
It took Urshela one batter to better himself after the Margot play.
With Urshela playing in, Joey Wendle roped a grounder toward the hole between third and short, that also appeared destined for a single. But Urshela made a diving stop, retrieved the ball and, from the seat of his pants, fired a strike to first.
"I mean, oh my goodness," Cole said after the game.
The play was reminiscent of the remarkable double play Urshela helped turn in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the wild-card series. Carlos Santana thought he had an RBI single that would increase Cleveland’s lead to two runs but a diving Urshela made the stop and started an inning-ending double play that kept the Yankees within a run at 9-8, paving the way for the two-run rally that followed in the top of the ninth of an eventual 10-9 victory.
"It’s no secret, we all know what Gio is capable of,’’ said Aroldis Chapman, on the mound when Urshela started the double play. "I really think he saved the game there. If the ball goes by him, at least one run comes in. It was an amazing play."
Urshela, whose breakout 2019 made previous third baseman Miguel Andujar an afterthought, said the "thrill" he gets out of hitting a home run and making a standout defensive play isn’t the same, though just as satisfactory.
"Different feeling I think," Urshela said Tuesday afternoon. "I think homers, it’s more like energy [it gives you], where playing third, you just react, catch the ball and throw."
Though making it sound simple, his manager, primarily a third baseman – and a good one – during his 12-year career in the big leagues, made clear that it is not.
"I could have," Boone smiled, asked if he could have made the same plays Urshela did Monday. "Doesn't mean I would have."