LOS ANGELES — Gary Sanchez continues to be a polarizing figure among Yankees fans.
They get frustrated with his occasional issues on defense, and those frustrations become more vocalized whenever the streaky catcher goes into a strikeout-laden slump.
And then, on nights like Friday, those criticisms vanish.
When Sanchez homered off Dodgers ace Hyun-Jin Ryu, it was his 29th of the season and 100th of his career. The latter was accomplished in Sanchez’s 355th game, allowing him to reach the 100-homer plateau faster than any other catcher (and any other American League player) in MLB history. He surpassed Mike Piazza, who reached 100 in 422 games with the Dodgers. Only former Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard hit 100 homers at a quicker pace, doing it in 325 games.
“It’s special to be the catcher that gets there the fastest. I feel happy about that,” Sanchez said through his interpreter. “It’s special, but I’m pretty sure some other catchers are going to come up and break that record.”
Sanchez, who was given Saturday off but pinch hit late for Austin Romine, was not able to play hero a second straight day. He grounded out with runners on first and second to end the seventh inning, then struck out with the bases loaded against Kenley Jansen to end the Yankees' 2-1 loss.
Still, the season has been an overwhelming success compared to last year.
Sanchez had a disastrous, injury-plagued 2018 in which he was limited to 89 games and hit .186 with 18 homers and a .697 OPS. He finished Saturday hitting .236 in 90 games but has an .834 OPS and the 29 homers in only 343 at-bats.
“He's our best hitter. It's something I've said for a long time," Aaron Judge said. “He has one of the most explosive swings in the game and he's got adjustability with it, too. That's what makes him so great. He's able to adjust to off-speed pitches well and he's always ready for the heater. That's quite a milestone for him and there's a lot more where that came from.”
Sanchez typically does not start a day game after a night game, and Aaron Boone said he was not tempted to make an exception.
“No,” Boone said. “We had this marked out, in the middle of this trip. This is a day I wanted to have him down, especially with the confidence we have in Ro [Romine] and the way he’s playing. And I’ve got Gary sitting over there as a big weapon at some point in the game if needed.”
As for Sanchez's record, Boone, like Judge, expressed no surprise.
“Special, special talent,” Boone said. “And, again, when he’s controlling the strike zone, he’s elite. Good to see him swing the bat as well as he is and I know building that confidence and hopefully just continue with the momentum he’s got going.”