Another huge moment, another hero and another Yankee whom -- if we’re speaking frankly here -- most people outside the team’s front office didn’t know existed until a few months ago.
On Sunday, it was Mike Ford, who was called on to pinch hit for Clint Frazier in the ninth inning. All he did was smash a walk-off homer against A’s closer Liam Hendriks, one of the sport’s elite relievers, to personally deliver the Yankees’ 5-4 victory.
Ford, a 27-year-old rookie, already has slugged 10 home runs in 36 games this season, spread out over two different call-ups. He basically got his shot this season because three first basemen wound up on the injured list.
These days, Aaron Boone trusts everyone wearing pinstripes to do whatever job, in whatever situation. No offense to Ford, or Gio Urshela, or Mike Tauchman, but don’t you sometimes feel as if Boone could wave down an usher from behind the dugout, give him a jersey and have him step in for a critical at-bat?
Every team preaches the Next Man Up philosophy, but it’s mostly meant as a self-help mantra, a way for team members not to feel sorry for themselves when a rash of injuries plagues the clubhouse. In the Yankees’ case, however, it’s worked with amazing efficiency.
“I would say our guys have been great at it all year,” Boone said. “Whoever we’ve brought up has controlled situations and moments really well and beyond maybe their experience. Ford’s been one of those guys, but the list is long in guys that have been able to contribute in that kind of way this year.”
The Yankees have used 47 players this season, and it feels as if each has come through. Could Giancarlo Stanton have done any better than Ford?
After Brett Gardner, the longest-tenured Yankee, tied the score at 4 in the ninth with his signature rainbow hook into the rightfield seats, Ford worked Hendriks to a full count before ripping a 98-mph fastball into the Yankees’ bullpen.
Ford knew it the moment he made contact, too, flipping the bat toward the Yankees’ dugout long before the ball finally returned to Earth. This was not rookie stuff, or the behavior of a career minor leaguer. Ford plays with the confidence of Stanton, or Aaron Judge, but not in a cocky or arrogant way. Like many of the newly minted Yankees, he performs as if he belongs here -- not as a fill-in.
“The organization does a great job of preparing us,” Ford said. “It’s kind of just we’re waiting down there, and if we get our chance, we want to run with it.”
The Yankees wouldn’t be running away with the AL East, or be the first MLB team to reach 90 wins, without this bumper crop of farm talent, or otherwise fringe pickups by Brian Cashman who morphed into All-Stars once they arrived in the Bronx. The fact that this keeps happening on almost a daily basis is astonishing, and with Ford, it raises some interesting questions in the weeks ahead.
Ford’s remarkable home run surge is reminiscent of Luke Voit’s a year ago, and you have to wonder if the lefthanded hitter’s power is forcing him into the postseason discussion. The Yankees immediately stuck Frazier into Sunday’s starting lineup on the Sept. 1 expansion date as a convenient righthanded-hitting weapon against A’s lefthander Sean Manaea, but it wound up being a former Triple-A Scranton teammate who provided the dramatic blast.
And there’s no reason to think it won’t keep happening with Ford, or the next guy, or the next guy, as long as they’re wearing pinstripes. We’ve seen enough evidence by now.
“A lot of guys are getting opportunities that maybe came earlier than expected, and all the guys in the room believe in each other,” Gardner said. “No moment is too big for anybody, as we saw today with Mike.”
We’ve talked all season about the Yankees’ stunning number of injuries and how the presumption is they’ll look more like the Yankees as they get players back this month. But who are the real Yankees after all? Going on what we’ve seen, it’s the person in the uniform that day. It’s never been more appropriate for them not to have names on the back.
“We believe in the guys and the depth that we have within this organization,” Boone said. “And really to a man, they’ve all stepped up in a profound way.”
It seems the Scranton shuttle eventually leads to a Gatorade bath these days, right after they put on the pinstripes.