The Yankees probably could have had righthanded starting pitcher Gerrit Cole if they wanted to part with Miguel Andujar. They might have had a better rotation, but where would that have left their offense?
The lineup has been sputtering and frustrating at times, but Andujar has done his part. He almost rescued the Yankees on Saturday, but even his grand slam -- which capped a six-run seventh inning -- was not enough in an 8-7 loss.
As the Yankees cling to the first wild card, it’s time to ask: Where would they be without their rookie third baseman?
Aaron Boone was quick to answer that, saying, “He has shown, having to earn everything he's got, having nothing handed to him and kind of has taken this job and run with it. But on top of that what we've seen is a really gifted hitter, able to handle a lot of different pitchers. He's been as consistent offensively for us as really anyone. He's one of those guys that any time he comes up in a situation and tough spot, off a tough pitcher, you like seeing him in the box, especially with runners on base.’’
Andujar did not start the game. Boone, as he often says, wanted to keep another player “relevant,” and this time it was Neil Walker. Andujar pinch hit for Brett Gardner in the sixth and walked, then came up in the seventh with the bases loaded against former Yankee Tyler Clippard.
Andujar hit Clippard’s first pitch just over the leftfield wall for his second bases-loaded homer this season. That left the Yankees a run short -- they had entered the bottom of the seventh down 8-1 -- and Andujar was in the on-deck circle when Luke Voit struck out to end the game.
Andujar walked slowly into the dugout. He had been looking forward to at least one more turn. ``Yeah, of course,’’ he said through his interpreter. ``Any time you get an opportunity to hit-- like I said before--I'm going to be ready.’’
Andujar is hitting .299 with 24 homers and 83 RBIs. He has 40 doubles. His 66 extra-base hits trail only Joe DiMaggio (88) and Aaron Judge (79) for most by a Yankees rookie.
He said he stayed prepared even though he wasn't scheduled to start. “During the whole game, I maintain myself, ready and loose for any opportunity,” he said. "If they needed me for anything, I was going to give them my best ... Tou want to stay loose. You stay paying attention to the game, seeing what's going on. You know they might call on me. That's what I did.”
General manager Brian Cashman never said Andujar was ``untouchable,’’ as he did with rookie second baseman Gleyber Torres, but it amounted to the same thing when the Pirates reportedly insisted that Andujar be included or there would be no deal for Cole. Cashman did not budge and Cole went to the Astros, where he is 14-5 with a 2.88 earned run average.
Andujar, despite hitting four homers and having a .928 OPS in spring training, did not make the Opening Day roster but was quickly recalled when outfieldewr Billy McKinney went down with a sprained shoulder. Brandon Drury was the likely third baseman until he was sidelined with migraine headaches and blurred vision.
Given the opportunity, Andujar locked down the job, although he had one more trade rumor to endure when it was reported that the Yankees were inquiring about acquiring Manny Machado from the Orioles. Machado went to the Dodgers, and Andujar had fended off another threat.
Now the rookie has enough of a leadership role that he is being asked about the Yankees' plight as they try to maintain their edge over the Athletics and earn the right to host the wild-card game. “Those are things I don't control, you know,’’ he said. ``To me it's just coming here and being ready to play every day. That's what I control: Come to the ballpark ready to play.’’