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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Surging Gary back to 2016 San-chise mode

Gary Sanchez of the Yankees connects for a

Gary Sanchez of the Yankees connects for a three-run home run in the first inning against the  Mets at Citi Field on  Aug. 17, 2017. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Yankees are paying the retired Alex Rodriguez $21 million not to play baseball for them this season. Maybe he’s also getting a small stipend or some gift cards or something to work for Hal Steinbrenner as an adviser, too.

But whatever A-Rod’s final haul, it may be worth it just for the pep talk that he and girlfriend Jennifer Lopez (or as I call her, “J-Lo”) apparently gave Gary Sanchez during a midtown Manhattan power lunch recently.

Sanchez, you may recall, has been struggling with his defense behind the plate, so much so that manager Joe Girardi called him out about it and benched him for a game.

Going into this week’s Subway Series, all the talk on the Yankees’ side was about Aaron Judge. All the talk on the Mets’ side — if there was any talk — was about Michael Conforto.

But if the Subway Series had an MVP, it would be Sanchez. With an assist from A-Rod and J-Lo.

Or maybe it was Girardi’s tough-love approach that got Sanchez to focus and play up to his talent. But that’s a less glitzy storyline.

Sanchez hit his third home run in four games, a three-run shot in the first inning, and had five RBIs on Thursday night as the Yankees completed a four-game sweep with a 7-5 victory over the Mets at a sold-out but subdued Citi Field.

Sanchez rocketed a 2-and-2 pitch from Steven Matz over the left-centerfield wall to give the Yankees a quick 3-0 lead. He added two more runs to the Long Island lefty’s ledger in the fourth with a two-run single off Chasen Bradford, who had just replaced Matz with the bases loaded.

In the series, Sanchez went 6-for-13 with three home runs and nine RBIs. He has eight homers in his last 20 games and 22 on the season. It brings up fond memories for the Yankees of his torrid home run-hitting pace of last August and September, when Sanchez was Judge without the toothy grin and personal rooting section at Yankee Stadium.

By “Judge,” of course, I mean “2017 first-half Judge,” when he set the world on fire and looked like baseball’s spiritual heir to Derek Jeter. Second-half Judge is striking out at a record-setting rate (three more times Thursday night). He also was too nonchalant on an easy fly ball in the seventh inning, dropping it for an embarrassing error that led to the Mets’ first run.

The Yankees led 7-1 going into the ninth before Curtis Granderson hit a grand slam off Bryan Mitchell for the final margin. Dellin Betances got the final three outs for his eighth save.

Most important for Sanchez, he caught the last three games against the Mets after DHing in the series opener. It wasn’t that long ago that some were suggesting that the Yankees would be better off making Sanchez the full-time DH and going with Austin Romine behind the plate.

It seemed like a reasonable idea, because Sanchez was leading the majors in passed balls with 12. But his last one came on Aug. 4. Sanchez will never be great defensively, but if he can be adequate while swatting 25 to 30 or so homers a season, the Yankees will take it.

At about 7:30 Thursday night, A-Rod posted a photo of Judge and Sanchez on Twitter with the caption, “Proud of these two young studs.”

Sanchez seems fixed. Maybe Judge needs a sit-down with A-Rod and J-Lo, too. Somebody’s people need to text somebody’s people, pronto.

Betances said he still has a similar mentor / student relationship with Mariano Rivera. But Betances doesn’t get the same perks Sanchez does.

“I guess that’s the bonus of meeting with A-Rod,” Betances said. “You get to meet J-Lo, too.”

Hey, whatever works.


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