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Rockies' loss is Yankees' gain: DJ LeMahieu is an MVP candidate 

Yankees' DJ LeMahieu runs the bases on a

Yankees' DJ LeMahieu runs the bases on a Aaron Judge base hit during the first inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies Saturday, July 20, 2019. Photo Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

The Yankees didn’t so much beat the Rockies on Saturday with the help of DJ LeMahieu as use him to flat-out humiliate them by flaunting Colorado’s former batting champion and Gold Glove winner.

When LeMahieu wasn’t busy collecting his three hits or scoring his two runs in the Yankees’ 11-5 victory, he was making a stellar defensive play at third base. Or vacuuming up grounder after grounder at first, where he moved after Luke Voit was grazed in the mouth by a 92-mph fastball.

The Rockies didn’t see a fit with LeMahieu, a career second baseman, when they were imagining their 2019 roster. Instead, they gave Daniel Murphy the same two-year, $24 million contract LeMahieu got from the Yankees — and they got burned Saturday during a 94-degree afternoon in the Bronx.

LeMahieu isn’t the vindictive type. He spent seven years with the Rockies and still has friends there. They’re apparently very fond of him, too. As soon as the Rockies arrived Friday at the Stadium, Charlie Blackmon set up his own news conference to address questions about his former teammate and came off as the president of the DJ LeMahieu Fan Club.

“He deserves everything that’s coming to him and he deserves the recognition because he is such a great player,” Blackmon said. “I’m happy to see him thrive and do so well in such a great place. I’m excited that other people know how good he is, too, and it’s not just our secret.”

Don’t worry, Charlie. It’s common knowledge that the Rockies let LeMahieu escape and that he’s now building a legit case for MVP consideration. Not just on the Yankees, but for the entire American League. What else does he need to do?

When Brian Cashman described him as versatile, we first thought that was more in an experimental way. But LeMahieu has been a lifesaver amid the Yankees’ avalanche of injuries, and his clutch hitting, in a lineup that previously needed a contact bat, probably has exceeded even Cashman’s rosiest projections.

What LeMahieu contributed Saturday was basically a microcosm of his season, just in case the Rockies hadn’t been paying close enough attention before their visit. His three-hit game was his first since June 30 against the Red Sox (in London) and his 39 multi-hit efforts lead the AL. His standout defense at first base almost felt like a bonus, considering the blowout.

LeMahieu converted six chances over there in five innings, two of them star-worthy on your scorecard. Not bad for someone who had played a total of four games at first base in his eight seasons before coming to the Bronx.

“I think the more I play over there,” LeMahieu said, “there’s definitely a level of comfort.”

The biggest endorsement is that Aaron Boone doesn’t blink when it’s time to install LeMahieu wherever he’s needed, and that’s happened quite a bit in his first season. As Bronx adjustments go, they don’t get any better, and a Swiss army knife like LeMahieu — who also owns three Gold Gloves at second base — tends to make a second-year manager look like a genius.

“It’s the versatility, having not done it [before] in the big leagues,” Boone said after the game. “You saw some special plays at first today. We got DJ that we can plug and play everywhere. And wherever he goes, he plays it like a Gold Glover.”

Funny thing is, the Rockies knew all this. They had LeMahieu, and he even won a batting title (.348) for them in 2016. People paying attention, such as Cashman, figured he could bloom in the Bronx as well. The dice roll, to some degree, had to do with the super-utility role.

“I guess New York really likes New York,” Blackmon said. “And if you don’t do it in New York, it doesn’t count. And to an extent, I understand that.”

Aside from the talent, Cashman had to bet on LeMahieu’s makeup, and his chill persona — off the field, anyway — is a perfect fit on these Yankees, who also happen to possess the majors’ best record (64-33). LeMahieu continues to be a big reason for that, and he’s totally unfazed by the pressures that come with the bright lights here.

“He’s been one of the best players in the league,” Boone said. “As we sit here today, he’s probably in the MVP conversation.”

Boone can remove the “probably” from that statement. LeMahieu’s .435 batting average with runners in scoring position leads the majors, his .334 batting average leads the American League, and his value around the diamond, playing premium defense, is a huge plus.

On the field, LeMahieu comes off as a stone-cold assassin, relentlessly finding holes at pivotal moments and robbing hits.

Afterward, by his locker, he slips into an alter-ego of the mild-mannered guy, softly answering questions about the damage he just did. And to his former pals, no less.

“Yeah, it’s a little weird,” said LeMahieu, who is 5-for-9 in the series. “I’ll be excited not to play them anymore.”

Not half as excited as the Rockies will be.

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