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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Gary Sanchez connects with walk-off HR and with young fans

Yankees catcher provides indelible moment for 9,000 Bronx students in attendance for a sport desperate to connect with young people.

Gary Sanchez #24 of the Yankees reacts after

Gary Sanchez #24 of the Yankees reacts after his ninth inning game winning three run home run against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, Apr. 26, 2018. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

There were two distinct sounds in the bottom of the ninth inning of the Yankees’ 4-3 win over the Twins at Yankee Stadium on Thursday afternoon.

The first was music to the ears of Yankees fans. The second should be the same to the executives of Major League Baseball on Park Avenue.

First, there was the sound of Gary Sanchez absolutely crushing a walk-off three-run home run to leftfield. Anyone who heard the crack of the bat knew it was gone the instant Sanchez connected to give the Yankees their sixth win in a row.

Next, there was the high-pitched sound of thousands of young voices screaming in delight. On a day the Yankees welcomed 9,000 Bronx students from grades 5-8 as part of Bronx Education All-Star Day, Sanchez provided an indelible moment that may have created some new fans for a sport that is desperate to connect with young people.

“All those kids have got to be in heaven with the game they got today,” said winning pitcher Dellin Betances, who grew up in Manhattan and once was one of those young fans in the stands at the old Yankee Stadium, most memorably for David Wells’ perfect game in 1998.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred recognizes the need for baseball to broaden its appeal to young fans. Baseball can be a plodding, torturous affair, and Manfred is doing what he can to quicken the pace of play. So far, it hasn’t worked very well.

Between-pitch clocks, no-pitch intentional walks and limiting mound visits — all added in the last few seasons — can do only so much. Baseball is not designed to have wall-to-wall action, but instead to build tension. In the era of never-ending pitching changes and players stepping out of the box after every pitch, it can be difficult to keep seasoned fans interested, much less new ones.

And then . . . there are moments like the 0-and-1 pitch from Fernando Rodney to Sanchez and the swing that sent everyone home — some via the yellow school buses that ringed the Stadium streets.

If that was a kid’s first game, imagine the story he or she will tell today. Maybe it won’t be about the hot dogs or the between-innings cap game on the scoreboard. Maybe it’ll be about the pure joy of seeing your team go from losing to winning in the blink of an eye.

“That’ll hook ’em pretty good,” said Neil Walker, who grew up a Pirates fan in Pittsburgh and ended up starring for his hometown team.

“That’s awesome,” CC Sabathia said. “That’s what makes baseball fans. I’m sure some kids that were here today, that definitely was their first game. It will be an experience that they can remember. They’ll probably come to the park now expecting that, but seeing other things, too. So it’s cool.”

It wasn’t the best-played game those kids will ever see. The Yankees didn’t get a hit until Brett Gardner singled with two outs in the sixth against Twins starter Kyle Gibson. Both teams committed a pair of errors, including a two-base throwing error by Twins third baseman Miguel Sano on Didi Gregorius’ inning-opening grounder in the ninth.

Giancarlo Stanton followed with an infield single to bring up Sanchez, who had never before had a walk-off hit of any kind in the majors.

Now he does. A loud one, as loud as the cheers in the ballpark and as loud as the Yankees were in a private celebration in the back of their clubhouse before they headed to California to start a road trip against the Angels.

“To finish off a homestand like that is pretty neat,” manager Aaron Boone said. No kidding.

New York Sports