Of the many superlatives that could be used to describe Gio Urshela’s otherworldly performance Wednesday night at third base, perhaps this says it best.
Not even Jeff McNeil, the Mets’ plate wizard himself and currently the sport’s top hitter, was able to get a ball past Urshela’s vacuum-like reach.
McNeil tried, in the eighth inning. After seeing Gio’s two fantastic backhanded plays earlier, the Mets’ leadoff man ripped a hard grounder that looked destined for leftfield. But Urshela dived to his left to speared it, then rolled over, and in one motion delivered a strong throw — while sitting in the dirt — to easily beat McNeil.
“Incredible, incredible,” said DJ LeMahieu, a multiple Gold Glove winner. “To get to the ball is impressive. But to make those throws is even more impressive. It’s really fun to watch him over there.”
Describing his acrobatics doesn’t really do it justice, either. Urshela already was nursing some sort of glute injury — the Yankees \[surprise\] weren’t very specific — that he suffered while circling the bases on his sixth-inning home run, the back-to-back job with Didi Gregorius that iced the Yankees’ 5-1 victory over the Mets.
It was a bizarre chain of events. Urshela pulled a homer — his seventh of the season — off reliever Wilmer Font, and appeared fine during his first few steps out of the box. But as he continued around the bases, he got progressively slower, developing a limp, then struggled to finally cross the plate.
By then, Urshela was greeted by Aaron Boone and trainer Steve Donohue, with the pair helping him to the dugout. It’s been an all-too-familiar scene for the Yankees this season. A day earlier, they made Luke Voit the 22nd Yankee to wind up on the IL after he was diagnosed with an abdominal strain. And now Urshela, who should be granted more playing with LeMahieu needing to play first, comes up with a medical condition of his own.
Boone thought Urshela was done right there in the sixth inning. So as he received treatment, the manager prepped Edwin Encarnacion, who was coming up the dugout stairs at the end of the inning — only to have Urshela pass him.
Normally we’d question the Yankees’ judgment to let him back on the field. After all, the team doesn’t have a great medical track record this season. But after witnessing Urshela’s breathtaking robbery of McNeil — “from the seats of his pants” as Boone described it — how could we argue with their assessment?
Urshela took much longer than usual to come out after the game, presumably because he was in the trainer’s room, but he didn’t sound too worried about the injury. As for basically returning on his own after limping around the bases, Urshela shrugged it off.
“I got treatment, felt pretty good,” he said. “I told [Boone] I was good and I was able to finish the game.”
We also can’t blame the manager for wanting Urshela back in there, as he walled off the left side of the infield Wednesday night. The Yankees plucked Urshela from the Blue Jays a year ago because of his sterling defensive reputation, but he’s gone above and beyond simply being a glove-first journeyman. With two more hits, he’s batting .307 with an .829 OPS, and the plays Urshela made in Wednesday’s victory were more than simply good.
They also got better as the night went on. In the second inning, Urshela ranged behind third base for the backhanded stab, and as his momentum carried him toward the plate, he rifled a throw across his body to edge Todd Frazier by a half-step. Then in the fourth, Urshela hustled in front of the bag for another backhander on Michael Conforto’s chopper, but this time had to fire off a throw from much deeper in foul territory.
“Gio is a special talent at third base,” Domingo German said through a translator. “He gives you that confidence that he’s going to make the plays every single time.”
Urshela figured to be the odd man out when Gregorius returned from Tommy John surgery, because LeMahieu — in the midst of a ridiculous offensive year — had become impossible to remove from the lineup. But Voit’s indefinite stay on the IL has likely opened up more time for Urshela again, which is great news for him and a terrible development for opposing hitters.
“It’s no surprise to us,” Gleyber Torres said of Gio’s stellar glovework.
McNeil, for one, is no doubt happy to be rid of him until next year.