Anthony Volpe handling pressure in grand (slam) fashion
Sitting a few empty swings from the interstate is not a place anyone wants to be, but especially a high-profile, ultra-hyped, Jersey kid like Anthony Volpe, who is saddled with the pressure of playing the same position as the Yankees’ most recent Hall of Famer.
For all the dreamy talk of his potential, the numbers are part of that conversation, too. So when Volpe lugged his .202 to the plate Wednesday with the bases loaded in the fifth inning, the moment felt considerably bigger. And here’s what we’re quickly discovering about Volpe in a relatively short period of time: much like the Yankees’ former captain, he seems to rise in stature for these situations.
When A’s reliever Rico Garcia split the plate with a 95-mph fastball, Volpe smacked a 419-foot blast that sailed over the centerfield wall, just to the left of Monument Park. On impact, there was no doubt, and his fourth homer of the season blew open the Yankees’ 11-3 rout and clinched a three-game sweep of the woeful A’s in the Bronx.
“That was impressive,” said Aaron Judge, a respected authority on tape-measure shots. “Very few people can take it out to dead-center like that and know off the bat that it’s going to be gone. He’s been hitting the ball hard all season. I think the [batting] average you see up there isn’t right, man. He swings the bat well, he has a great approach. Just been a little unlucky, so I was pretty happy he got rewarded for that little granny right there.”
Judge’s analysis is spot-on. Volpe ranks in the 70th percentile in hard-hit balls, according to Baseball Savant, so the solid contact is there. He doesn’t get cheated on his swings, that’s for sure. A day earlier, Volpe launched a 381-foot triple to left-center, the deepest part of the Stadium, but many of his liners have been finding gloves, too.
Volpe didn’t have to worry about any of the A’s tracking down Wednesday’s rocket. At 22 years, 12 days, he became the fifth-youngest Yankee to hit a grand slam -- Mickey Mantle had three before then, starting at age 20, while Melky Cabrera had the other -- but Volpe did beat the aforementioned Jeter to the milestone. By a lot.
Jeter needed a decade to notch his one and only grand slam, which came against the Cubs in 2005, and it took him 155 plate appearances with the bases loaded (the longest active streak in the game at the time). Just eight days shy of his 31st birthday. Volpe got there so fast it never even became a thing. He’s now 3-for-3 in his short career with the bases loaded, with seven RBIs.
“I don’t know if relief would really be the right word,” Volpe said, smiling. “I was just trying to get those runs in.”
He settled on the most efficient method, and it shouldn’t be all that surprising. Volpe showed some pop in the minors, smacking 21 homers last season and 27 the previous year. He’s already taken advantage of the short porch in the Bronx, but there was nothing cheap about Wednesday’s rocket, the game’s longest drive that would have cleared the fences everywhere but Coors Field (oddly enough) and Comerica Park.
“The kid’s got juice — there’s no doubt about it,” said Harrison Bader, who chipped in Wednesday with a three-run homer. “He’s got a short, quick, intentional swing. He’s been hitting the ball really hard and guys were diving all over the place to get them. So to get one that kind of popped is awesome.”
If Volpe’s been frustrated at all by his lack of early results, you wouldn’t know. The Yankees entrusted him with the leadoff spot in sliding DJ LeMahieu down to help fortify the middle of the lineup and flirting with .200 is not ideal for that assignment. But the rash of injuries hasn’t left manager Aaron Boone with many options, and the Yankees remain bullish on what Volpe can do from up there. He’s handled everything they’ve thrown at him, and as Volpe displayed Wednesday, there’s the ability to do damage with any swing.
“This game’s hard,” Boone said. “But that’s one of the reasons why we took him with us. We know he’s equipped to handle all that and understands that and I think embraces that and enjoys that. As a player, you’ve got to enjoy the grind, enjoy the hardness of it — the everyday, physical, mental grind of it. Some guys are more cut out for it than others.
“I think he appreciates and respects how difficult this game is. But he also plays the game with a lot of confidence.”
Sound like any other Yankees shortstops you’ve heard of? But the noise Volpe is making during these first six weeks in pinstripes is uniquely his own, and his bat was awfully loud Wednesday in helping the Yankees broom the A’s. Volpe keeps turning up the volume, too.