Juan Soto, Yankees rightfielder, connects for a three-run double to...

Juan Soto, Yankees rightfielder, connects for a three-run double to break a 2-2 tie with the Tigers and give the Yankees a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning of an MLB game at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. Credit: James Escher

Where would the Yankees be without Juan Soto?

It’s a question that already has been asked a million times, and we’re only five weeks into the season.

Great for Soto. Not so great for Hal Steinbrenner’s checkbook, because now that everyone has seen the damage he’s done in pinstripes, there’s really no going back.

Any conversation regaling Soto’s heroics soon switches to the king’s ransom the Yankees will have to fork over to keep him beyond this walk year. Even in the first week of May, it’s unavoidable, because Soto has become the Ferrari engine of what otherwise would be a Honda Civic — at least until Aaron Judge turns back into his MVP self on a more consistent basis.

At this point, we’ll put aside the price tag. But the dollar figure Steinbrenner should be saving up for falls under the category of “whatever it takes,” which basically is Soto’s mindset on a nightly basis. And yes, Soto did it again Sunday, smacking a tiebreaking three-run double through the Bronx swampland in the seventh inning to deliver a rain-shortened 5-2 victory over the Tigers.

Remember how indispensable Judge made himself during the 2022 season, when every one of those 62 homers sounded like the cha-ching of a cash register? The idea of letting Judge sign elsewhere was unthinkable, and Steinbrenner ultimately ponied up $360 million at the 11th hour.

Soto isn’t a homegrown star like Judge, and he’s been wearing pinstripes for only 36 games. But with Judge only now getting up to speed, hitting his seventh homer Sunday, Soto has almost single-handedly filled that void to put the Yankees 10 games over .500 (23-13) and on the Orioles’ heels.

Everyone already knew about Soto’s mastery of the strike zone and his ability to take control of each at-bat, to make the pitcher go on the defensive despite having the ball in his hand. But it’s not just that. Soto’s knack for coming through during the game’s pivotal junctures is next level, as demonstrated by his stats with runners in scoring position.

With Sunday’s three-run double, he is hitting .440 (11-for-25) in those RISP spots, with two doubles, three homers, two sacrifice flies, 22 RBIs and a 1.380 OPS. It’s tough to buy production like that. And when you have the chance, it’s typically very expensive.

“I think in any situation, he’s about as good as it gets,” manager Aaron Boone said. “But there’s no question he loves being in that moment, in that situation. I don’t know if there’s another level of focus because it feels like every at-bat, that’s who he is.”

The sequences leading up to Soto’s tiebreaking double may have provided some clues to how it might play out against lefthanded reliever Andrew Chafin in that seventh inning.

In the third, Soto appeared miffed by the strike zone of plate umpire Edwin Jimenez, shaking his head after getting rung up on lefthander Tarik Skubal’s sinker on the inside edge. It didn’t help his mood in the fifth when Skubal whiffed him again, this time when he failed to check his swing on a changeup below the zone.

Soto wasn’t going to leave himself at the mercy of Jimenez if he got another opportunity. So when the Yankees loaded the bases in the seventh and Chafin entered to face him, Soto worked the count to 2-and-1 before going a tick outside the strike zone to pull a line-drive double down the rightfield line.

“I wasn’t looking for that pitch,” Soto said. “But after the call the umpire gave me on a borderline [strike one] pitch, I definitely knew I had to cover that down there. So he tried to nibble again and I just made sure I swung at that one.”

Soto’s swing decisions tend to pay off. Just as Judge used to be the most feared Yankee in those critical spots, that title unequivocally belongs to Soto now Until further notice.

“He’s a gamer,” Judge said. “No moment is too big for him. He’s ready. He does a good job of flushing all of his at-bats. Even if he’s 2-for-2 or 0-for-2, he treats every moment like it’s the most important moment.”

Soto just flips the script in a way that few in the sport are capable of doing. You can almost see the pitcher sweat with him in the box, even standing in a rainstorm, as Chafin was in the seventh inning. Rather than feel pressure, Soto applies it to the guy on the mound, daring him to meet in the strike zone. On Sunday, the Chafin sinker was close enough.

“That whole at-bat, I just felt like he was in command,” Boone said.

It’s not even Memorial Day, and we’re all running out of superlatives for Soto. Boone, Judge — everyone is struggling to find new and creative ways to describe his daily brilliance. And once this season is over, it’s up to Steinbrenner to come up with the right numbers to make sure the Soto Show isn’t merely a limited one-year run. Because the Yankees without Soto is hard to imagine right now.


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