For all that Gleyber Torres already has achieved, he sat at home last winter with a burning frustration and a twinge of guilt. Last season — his remarkable rookie season — ended early for the Yankees with an ALDS loss to the eventual champion Red Sox, punctuated by Torres making the final out on a weak grounder to third.
“So after that season, I go home, and I never forget that moment,” Torres said. “I feel bad. I feel frustration. But I just take that moment too personal and just take advantage of that.”
The memory became a motivating force, and on Friday it brought Torres, 22, to the cusp of conquering about the only arena he has yet to make his own, the playoffs.
He delivered perhaps the biggest hit of Game 1 of the ALDS: a tiebreaking two-run double in the fifth that gave the Yankees the lead for good in their 10-4 win over the Twins.
Before Aroldis Chapman finished it off, before DJ LeMahieu blew it open with a three-run double in the seventh, before LeMahieu and Brett Gardner homered in the sixth, it was Torres who came through when the Yankees needed it most.
Not that that surprised anybody else on the team.
“I was actually in the video room, and he came up, bases loaded,” Gary Sanchez said through his interpreter. “I said, ‘Let me go outside because I want to watch his double.’ And that’s what happened. It’s just joy, seeing him and everything he does for us. He’s just a great baseball player all the way around.”
LeMahieu said: “He's been doing that all year. He's 22, and no situation is too big for him. He's an impressive player … Once we got the lead there, I felt pretty comfortable we were going to win. So that was a big swing for us.”
The turning point came during the Yankees’ rally in the fifth. Aaron Judge walked, Brett Gardner got hit by a pitch and Giancarlo Stanton walked to load the bases with one out for Torres.
Torres was tasked with facing Minnesota righthander Tyler Duffey, who in his breakout season had a 2.50 ERA and 1.01 WHIP and held righthanded hitters to a .205/.268/.333 slash line.
After falling behind 0-and-2, Torres watched three consecutive balls to work the count full. Duffey offered a slider down and away, but he fouled it off. The seventh pitch of the at-bat was a fastball inside, and Torres yanked it down the leftfield line, off the glove of diving third baseman Miguel Sano. Judge and Gardner scored.
“A big time at-bat against a guy that was really tough on righties,” manager Aaron Boone said. “To work himself back into that count, I think the 3-and-2 pitch that he kind of three-quarter-swing-spoiled to keep surviving and then finally got a pitch he could do something with and smoked it.
“It was a huge at-bat, obviously, in that game. We're kind of looking for that kind of hit. We created some pretty good traffic to that point, and that hit, I think, really, really got us rolling from there.”
Torres added: “I swing the first pitch and take the second one, and after that I just feel relaxed. I don't want to feel pressure in that moment. I never feel panic and just try to take really good pitch to put the ball into play, and I help my team.”
Torres finished 1-for-3, drew a walk and scored a run. That is a more eventful night than any of his games from last October, when he had four hits — one run, no RBIs — in five games.
“He's smart and he's confident,” Boone said. “And that's a really good combination when you're talented.”