Gary Sanchez only caught one inning in Tuesday night’s 6-4 Yankees win over the Astros in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
The ninth inning. The close-out inning.
Manager Joe Girardi decided to give Sanchez a day off as the starting catcher and used Austin Romine behind the plate to backstop Sonny Gray. Sanchez, who was hitless in 13 at-bats in the ALCS, started the game as the designated hitter.
The Yankees had gotten one measly hit from their DHs all postseason. They got another one from Sanchez: the go-ahead, two-run double in the eighth inning that completed a comeback from a 4-0, seventh-inning deficit.
Sanchez, who also had a sacrifice fly in the seventh for the Yankees’ second run, entered the game behind the plate in the final inning after Girardi used Chase Headley to bat for Romine and lost the DH.
Headley, who picked up the Yankees’ first DH hit on Monday, had a big pinch single as part of the four-run rally that rocked the Astros and tied the series at two games apiece.
Sanchez had the big blow when he doubled to right-center off Astros closer Ken Giles to give the Yankees their first lead of the night. And the only one they would need.
Sanchez clapped his hands and pointed at the dugout as he reached second base. It was bedlam in the Bronx.
“Emotions are raw,” Sanchez said through his interpreter. “You’re standing on second base and can’t even control them. It was a big hit there to help your team and go ahead there in the bottom of the eighth. The emotions are coming out and hard to contain.”
Girardi said before the game that he wanted Romine to handle Gray, who has a tendency to bounce his breaking ball. Sanchez’s defensive woes behind the plate are well-known, although he has been solid blocking balls in the postseason.
Girardi also wanted to give Sanchez a mental day off to focus on his hitting.
“Did it help me? I don’t think so,” Sanchez said. “I had the same approach, even when I was catching. Some of that stuff you can’t really control.”
Said Girardi: “I just think he’s a good hitter and he was due to bust out.”
It may not have helped, but it also didn’t hurt. Other than Aaron Judge, Sanchez is the most feared hitter in the Yankees’ lineup, and the team is two wins away from the World Series with only sporadic offense from the young sluggers.
Not on Tuesday. Judge had a solo home run and the game-tying RBI double as the teammates came through with the Yankees staring a 3-1 series deficit in the face.
“Gary came up in a big-time situation, did his job,” Judge said. “I’ve been with Sanchez a couple of years in the minor leagues and to see him come up big in a situation like that, it’s incredible. It’s about having that one moment in the game. No matter what you did in previous at-bats, if you made an error out in the field in the previous innings, it’s having that one moment. Gary was able to do that.”