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All-powerful Didi Gregorius cleans up in Yankees' home opener

Didi Gregorius of the Yankees celebrates with his

Didi Gregorius of the Yankees celebrates with his teammates after defeating the Rays at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, April 3, 2018. Credit: Jim McIsaac

To give you an idea of the magnitude of what Didi Gregorius accomplished during Tuesday’s Bronx opener on a frosty evening better suited for penguins than shortstops, consider his supporting cast in the Yankees’ 11-4 rout of the Rays.

Aaron Judge, the all-everything No. 99 himself, was the stage manager nudging Gregorius from the dugout for not one, but two curtain calls after he drilled a pair of three-run homers through a bone-chilling rain that soaked the Stadium.

As for Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees’ supposed king-maker of winter trades, he was immensely grateful that Gregorius gave the fans plenty to cheer about. If not for the crowd frequently chanting, “Di-Di! Di-Di!” who knows how much louder and longer the booing would have been for his cringe-worthy five-strikeout day?

“It was fun to watch, man,” Stanton said. “He picked me up, too. That’s what a cleanup hitter does — you clean up the garbage in front of you.”

Props to Stanton for the self-deprecating take on his dismal Bronx unveiling. He appreciated this was Didi’s Day from nearly start to finish, and the eight-RBI performance was unmatched by any other shortstop in franchise history.

That includes the Marlins’ CEO, by the way. When Derek Jeter retired after the 2014 season, the captain’s championship legacy — secured by five rings — figured to set the Bronx bar too high for anyone else to surpass at the position. Conventional wisdom dictated that no one wanted to be the player to follow Captain Clutch, so what chance did Gregorius — the .241-hitting shortstop from Arizona — possibly have of succeeding in the Bronx?

We’re way past that thinking now. More and more, the December trade that rejuvenated the Yankees, and steered them back toward the title track, isn’t necessarily the swap Brian Cashman engineered to pry Stanton from his old buddy in Miami.

It’s Cashman’s three-team deal with the Diamondbacks and Tigers that secured Gregorius for a Yankees package that included all of Shane Greene. Three-plus years later, that’s turning into a bigger heist than the Stanton trade, which still put the Yankees on the hook for roughly $250 million.

Just last week, Stanton left us all starry-eyed when he swatted two homers during the Opening Day win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. But that’s what Stanton does. While Gregorius has developed into an increasingly dangerous hitter since that ’14 trade, the damage he did Tuesday was almost beyond imagination — and historic across the board.

Didi’s eight RBIs were the most by a Yankee since Alex Rodriguez had 10, including a trio of home runs off the Angels’ Bartolo Colon, in 2005 at the old Stadium. Gregorius also became only the sixth shortstop all-time to accomplish the feat, not to mention the lone Yankee to drive in that many runs in a home opener.

“For me, it’s something nice,” Gregorius said. “But it’s not about just me. It’s about the team. Without all of those guys in front of me, I couldn’t get those RBIs.”

That’s a standard response from Gregorius, who despite an active Twitter presence and his funny roles in team promos, doesn’t do a ton of look-at-me commentary. That fits well into a Yankees personality that Jeter himself orchestrated during his two decades, but Gregorius is launching the shortstop performance into a new stratosphere, with both glove and bat.

The first thing Aaron Boone mentioned postgame about Gregorius was the nifty backhand stab-and-throw he made in the muddy infield in the second inning. But it’s impossible to overlook how important he’s become as the No. 4 hitter, a slot where Gregorius has been in four of the first five games. Overall, he’s batting .444 (8-for-18) with four doubles and two homers, good for a 1.635 OPS.

“He’s a guy you like seeing come up there in a big spot,” Boone said, describing him as a “big-time money player.”

Gregorius is a guy who truly enjoys the game, too. After the second homer, when he crushed a high fastball into the second deck, Didi followed with a quick bat flip, relishing the moment. So did everyone else in the building, with the chants urging him out of the dugout again.

“That was today,” Gregorius said, smiling. “Tomorrow is another day.”

Chances are, it will be another good one for Gregorius.

New York Sports