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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Forget Derek Jeter, Didi Gregorius is dynamite

Replacing the iconic captain has turned from filling Jeter’s shoes to walking a new, powerful path of his own.

Didi Gregorius of the Yankees follows through on

Didi Gregorius of the Yankees follows through on a fifth-inning two-run home run against the Twins at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

As far as Didi Gregorius is concerned, we can officially stop with sizing him up against his predecessor, Derek Jeter.

Right now, A-Rod is the better comp.

Or Babe Ruth.

When the Yankees traded for Didi Gregorius in December of 2014, he was saddled with what many believed to be an impossible task: replacing the former captain, a future Hall of Famer and the owner of five World Series rings.

But after the usual growing pains associated with every Bronx indoctrination, Gregorius has dramatically changed how we view the Yankees’ shortstop position. Jeter used to be the standard — steady, consistent, clutch (if you believe in such a thing, as we do).

Now? With Jeter taking his rings to South Beach as the CEO of the stripped-down Marlins, Gregorius is crafting a new legacy at short — slugging his way into the conversation with some of the game’s mightiest run-producers after hitting his eighth homer in Tuesday night’s 8-3 victory over the Twins and leading the majors with 27 RBIs.

“We don’t even bring [Jeter] up any more,” CC Sabathia said, “because he’s been that good. He’s been an anchor of our team.”

Gregorius snapped a 1-1 tie with his RBI single in the third inning off Jose Berrios, then chased the Twins’ ace with a two-run homer, his third in as many nights, in the fifth. For most players, that would be a special evening, perhaps a highlight for the week, or month. For Didi, it’s been business as usual, an almost daily occurrence. With that fifth-inning blast, Gregorius became the first shortstop in MLB history to collect eight home runs and 27 RBIs in a team’s first 22 games.

As for the Yankees’ perspective, Gregorius joined the only two players to ever accomplish that feat: Ruth (1927) and A-Rod (2007).

That’s some unexpected company, to say the least. And if you like predictions, Ruth finished that season with 60 homers and 165 RBIs, A-Rod had 54 and 156, respectively. Does that mean Gregorius is on pace to do that kind of damage? No one could have possibly imagined Gregorius would do what he’s done so far, so why should we assume it’s just going to suddenly disappear one day?

Gregorius’ 27 RBIs are tied for the fifth highest April total in franchise history, since it became an official statistic in 1920, and he’s only the fourth Yankee to hit eight homers in a calendar month (first in April) at the current Yankee Stadium. Through 14 games in the Bronx, Gregorius is batting .417 (20-for-48) with a 1.000 OPS, but he’s not getting too wrapped up in his place among the all-time greats quite yet.

“I’ve had some good months, but it’s not about the past,” Gregorius said. “It’s about what I can do right now. It’s not about the history. If the team is winning, that’s all I care about.

Maybe, at age 28, Gregorius has figured some things out and evolved into the player the Yankees dared to dream about when Brian Cashman made that three-team trade with the Diamondbacks and Tigers. The payout, to date, has been ridiculous. The Yankees believed they were on to something last year when they started using Gregorius in the cleanup spot, where he hit eight homers and delivered 40 RBIs in 42 games. But after the Giancarlo Stanton trade in late December, Gregorius joked on Twitter that his cleanup duties were probably over, with the National League’s MVP being fitted for pinstripes.

Instead, something bizarre is unfolding in the Bronx. The slumping Stanton is getting treatment similar to what Gregorius first experienced after replacing Jeter — the nightly booing in his home ballpark — while Gregorius is putting up Stanton-esque numbers, essentially filling the power void. Stanton was loudly booed during Tuesday’s game after each of his three strikeouts and Gregorius is routinely hearing “Di-Di! Di-Di!” chants for every move that he makes, be it a nifty backhanded grab or another one of his patented snap-hook line drives into the rightfield seats.

And yet, for all that recognition, the Yankees still spelled his name, “GREGIOUS,” on Tuesday’s backstop ad for his bat-day promotion.

“I saw that,” Gregorius laughed. “There’s nothing I can do. It’s out of my hands.”

These days, that’s about the only thing.

Another big night for Didi Gregorius improved his already gaudy numbers:

BA .347

OBP .442

SLG .787

OPS 1.220

HRs 8

RBIs 27

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