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Improving Gary Sanchez, steady DJ LeMahieu have plenty of respect for each other

The Yankees' Gary Sanchez celebrates his solo home

The Yankees' Gary Sanchez celebrates his solo home run with DJ LeMahieu during the ninth inning against the Red Sox on Friday in Boston. Credit: AP/Michael Dwyer

BOSTON — If Gary Sanchez at last has found his rhythm at the plate — and this past week offered some evidence that he has — few will be happier than one of the catcher’s biggest cheerleaders in the clubhouse.

"[He’s] always positive every day, he competes . . . works hard, and he wants to win, that’s the bottom line," DJ LeMahieu said. "I respect guys like that."

LeMahieu said that in the early-morning hours Saturday shortly after delivering what turned out to be the game-winning hit in the Yankees’ 6-5, 12-inning victory over the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

The second baseman answered most questions in his usual low-key, unemotional manner but brightened when asked about Sanchez, whose two-out homer in the ninth off Matt Barnes forced extra innings.

"Not the year he wanted probably, statistically, but he’s had some huge homers for us, some big hits," said LeMahieu, who entered Saturday night's game hitting .367 with a 1.056 OPS this season. "He’s been looking really good at the plate. He’s been looking like himself the last week. Big for him and big for the team."

Sanchez, far and away the most polarizing Yankee among the team’s fan base, entered Saturday night hitting just .154 with a .258 on-base percentage, though with 10 home runs.

He was hitting .119 as recently as Sept. 11, but in the last week, things have gotten better for Sanchez, who went 2-for-5 with three RBIs Friday night. He entered Saturday night's game at 6-for-18 with three homers, two doubles, six runs and nine RBIs in his last four games.

His homer Friday was his first career game-tying blast in the ninth inning or later. It was his 115th home run and it came in his 414th game. That marked the third-most homers through 414 games in MLB history behind Ryan Howard (129) and Aaron Judge (119).

"That's my job as a catcher," Sánchez said through his interpreter early Saturday morning. "Every time I go out there, I want to do my job on both sides of the ball. I feel great to be able to contribute and help the team."

A four-game stretch, of course, is too small a sample size to declare Sanchez’s season-long slump over. But Aaron Boone said that what he’s seen for much of the last week, even when Sanchez hasn’t gotten on base, is a significant improvement from what he saw for much of the year.

"It’s considerably better," Boone said. "A different guy in the box right now. He’s in the fight so much more right now. He’s winning pitches right now is the way I’d put it. Even in at-bats where he’s not getting a result, he’s winning a lot of pitches."

LeMahieu, the club’s offensive MVP in 2019, disclosed during his first season in pinstripes the admiration he had for Sanchez before joining the Yankees, something that has only grown as his teammate.

"He controls the running game by himself," LeMahieu said in an interview midway through last season. "[His arm is] the best I’ve seen from a catcher for sure. And then at the plate, he’s swings a really scary bat. For a catcher that gets beat up the way they do and to still produce offensively the way he does, that’s why he’s so special."

The admiration — bromance does not seem to be too strong a word — is not one-sided. It was Sanchez, after all, who tagged LeMahieu early last season with a nickname that immediately stuck: The Machine.

"He’s such a good ballplayer, it’s hard to describe," Sanchez told Newsday in 2019. "Any words I can say about him are going to fall short. I mean, the guy gets two, three hits every day. If he’s having a tough day, he has two hits. He can do it all. Is there a word for better than best? He’s that good."

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