BOSTON – Luke Voit is thrilled to be wearing a pinstriped suit to his home office these days, but forget the button-down image that might go with such a look. Voit, the Yankees’ unabashed basher, is more country than corporate and loves to give it a little Sammy Sosa-style hop and a big smile when he goes deep.
He has given the Yankees far more than the international signing bonus pool money that was supposed to be the key component of the trade that imported Voit from the Cardinals on July 28. He has transformed first base from an unproductive black hole to a white-hot spot in the batting order.
After taking the job away from struggling Greg Bird, Voit has 13 homers and 29 RBIs in his last 31 games, along with a .345/.424/.745 slash line in that span. In his last 10 games, he has six homers, 14 RBIs and a .410/.465/.949 slash line. He hit safely in nine of those games and drove in at least one run in eight of them.
Voit hit one of four homers by the Yankees in an 11-6 victory over the Red Sox on Friday night, helping them tie the 1997 Mariners’ major-league record of 264 home runs in a season -- a mark that was broken when the Yankees homered twice in Saturday's 8-5 victory over Boston.
“I’m having the time of my life. It’s been fun,” said Voit, who did not play in Saturday's game. “It’s been a joy to play with these guys, day in and day out.”
The feeling is mutual. Players love and react gleefully to Voit’s unbridled enthusiasm and he has become a Shane Spencer-like cult hero to fans at Yankee Stadium. It should be noted, though, that Spencer’s incredible homer binge in September 1998 (10 in 67 at-bats) came after the Yankees had run away with the AL East title. Voit’s productive run is more sustained and came at a time when the Yankees had fallen out of the AL East race and were in a somewhat perilous position in wild-card scenarios.
Spencer sparkled in what was, essentially, garbage time of a special season; Voit turned up the voltage when the team was in dire need. Since his Yankees debut in a loss at Fenway Park on Aug. 2 that was part of a demoralizing four-game sweep, Voit's production has been electric: a .328/.403/.672 slash line, 13 home runs, 31 RBIs and 27 runs in 38 games.
Not bad for a guy who was an afterthought in a trade that sent pitchers Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos to St. Louis in exchange for what was thought to be precious international signing bonus pool money. Turns out the precious cargo was a 6-3, 225-pound, late-blooming 27-year-old whose recent feats are labeled “Hot Hand Luke” in the Yankees’ daily notes package:
He laughs at his good fortune. “Who would have thought that? Wearing pinstripes this year, breaking records? I was the guy that broke the record for [home runs] for the Yankees,” he said, referencing his 10th and the team’s 246th on Sept. 20, which broke the franchise single-season record of 245 set in 2012. “That was pretty cool. It’s something you get to cherish, but obviously that’s not what I want to cherish after this season. Hopefully I’ll win a World Series.”
Voit certainly has played a huge role in giving the team a puncher’s chance in the postseason. “He’s been so impactful,” manager Aaron Boone said. “We talk about the kind of character he is and what he’s brought to our team and our clubhouse from an energy standpoint. You see this big, burly guy with power, but what’s really stood out to me is how well he’s controlled the strike zone and the quality of at-bat against both right and lefthanded pitching.”
That is by design. “I’ve always said, 'I’m not just the big guy who’s going up there and just strike out or hit a home run,' ” said Voit, who must cut down on his 37 strikeouts-in-38-games pace to burnish that image.
He also has walked 15 times and wants to improve that ratio. “I try to have good at-bats, work the counts, see as many pitches as I can and get walks, too,'' he said. "Every year I tell myself I want to get 100 walks.”
But it is the home runs and the joyful jogs that accompany them that have put Voit’s stamp on this Yankees season. “The great thing is that this lineup is so dangerous. You can’t pitch around one guy to get to the next guy because anyone can do damage at any time,” he said. “Kind of makes it easier for a lot of us because it’s so tough from 1 to 9. Anyone can hit a home run at any point. That’s what makes this team so exciting.”
Even during batting practice. “It’s impressive watching BP with some of these guys, and hitting with [Giancarlo] Stanton and [Aaron] Judge,” Voit said of his outsized teammates, who stand 6-6, 245 and 6-7, 282 respectively. “I feel like a little baby.”
More like the latest Baby Bomber, an unexpected delivery.