LOS ANGELES — CC Sabathia watched Gleyber Torres homer in his final two at-bats Thursday night in Oakland. Later that night, he pulled the 22-year-old aside.
“The kid’s a superstar. I told him that last night,” Sabathia said Friday before the Yankees began a three-game interleague series against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. “He’s amazing.”
Torres’ two homers, part of a 4-for-4 night in the Yankees’ 5-3 loss to the A’s, gave him a team-leading 31 home runs. He hit No. 32 in the sixth inning on Friday night, giving the Yankees an 8-1 lead over the Dodgers. Didi Gregorius hit a grand slam and Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez had solo shots earlier in the game, all off Hyun-Jin Ryu, who allowed seven runs in 4 1/3 innings and saw his ERA rise from 1.64 to 2.00.
The second-year player had his eighth multi-homer game of the season from the seven-hole Thursday and batted third for only the sixth time this season Friday night. One would assume that it won’t be the last time he’ll do so.
“Twenty-two years old with 31 home runs, playing shortstop and second base for the New York Yankees, it’s amazing,” Sabathia said, shaking his head. “It’s been fun to watch. He’s a great kid. Super-humble, fun to be around. We wish him nothing but success and hopefully he keeps banging. Hopefully he hits 40.”
Torres, acquired in the Aroldis Chapman trade with the Cubs before the 2016 trade deadline, became the second Yankee to hit at least 30 homers in his age-22 season or younger (Joe DiMaggio hit 46 in 1937 at 22). He tied the franchise record for most multi-homer games in a season, joining Alex Rodriguez (2007), Mickey Mantle (1961) and Babe Ruth (1927). Only one Yankees middle infielder in the last 100 years has led the club in home runs (Robinson Cano with 27 in 2013).
At 22 years, 252 days, Torres became the first player under the age of 23 to record eight multi-homer games in a season. The previous record was seven by the Rangers’ Juan Gonzalez in 1992. He’s the second-youngest player in league history to record 10 career multi-homer games, behind only Mel Ott (22 years, 163 days) of the New York Giants.
Torres, who hit .271 with an .820 OPS and 24 homers last season in finishing third in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting, is hitting .288 with an .899 OPS this season. He continues to refer to himself as “a contact hitter,” not a power hitter.
“You guys hear me wear it out, controlling the strike zone, and he’s taken that to heart,” Aaron Boone said Friday. “And I think he understands that that’s how he can get a little better on the margins. That’s how he can continue to go to another level.”
Boone continued: “We’ve seen the power that he displays to all fields. I talk to him a lot and tell him, ‘You’re going to go out and play in a lot of All-Star Games. It’s continuing to challenge yourself … And I feel like as a hitter, his strike zone control has gotten a little bit better. As he gets more mature and more experience, a player with his talent should continue to improve.”
From the time the Yankees reported for spring training, Boone said he noticed that Torres’ work ethic reflected a player “who wants to be great,” something Sabathia has noticed.
“You can just tell that he wants to be one of those great players, one of the top players in the game, and he takes a lot of pride in that,” said Sabathia, who will start Saturday afternoon’s game. “You could see some of the guys that don’t care about that stuff. He has a different attitude about it, and you can definitely see it.”