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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Didi Gregorius' injury creates pothole in Yankees' playoff road

Didi Gregorius #18 of the New York Yankees

Didi Gregorius #18 of the New York Yankees score under the tag from Caleb Joseph #36 of the Baltimore Orioles to score the game winning run in the eleventh inning at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, Sep. 22, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Welcome to the playoffs, and watch your step.

At the very instant that the Yankees officially entered the month-long obstacle course of the Major League Baseball playoffs, they hit a pothole. As Didi Gregorius slid home Saturday with the run that put his team in the postseason, he tore cartilage in his right wrist and potentially made the rest of the road really tough.

This is the latest, and for 2018 the earliest, example of how tough it is to make it all the way to the finish. The shortstop is confident that he will be able to play by Oct. 3, the date of the wild-card game, asserting that the cortisone shot he received Sunday helped right away. But who knows? He has not tried to hit or throw yet.

Champagne’s aftertaste was not so sweet. Gregorius will be reevaluated in a few days, Aaron Boone said. But it takes only a few seconds to evaluate how much trouble the Yankees would be in without him, especially considering how quiet the big boppers’ bats have been.

He had been the first one to mark the occasion Saturday, having come all the way around from first to score on Aaron Hicks’ double to left in the 11th inning. Gregorius emphatically lifted his arms after going hands-first across the plate, mindful that the win combined with the Rays’ loss had clinched a wild-card berth. His left hand had touched the plate, his right got stuck in a rut nearby.

At the time, the team was concerned with the health of Hicks, who had fouled a ball hard off his ankle right before the winning hit. Hicks did not start the 6-3 loss to the Orioles on Sunday but eventually got in the game. Gregorius never got close to the field.

“We were celebrating, everything was fine,” he said, recalling the events of Saturday evening, before the swelling started. “I went home fine. I woke up this morning and it wasn’t feeling good. We did an MRI and there’s a small tear in there.”

As the players still were in the clubhouse Saturday, spraying and swigging the last of the bubbly, Boone spoke at his news conference about how fraught the postseason can be. He warned that it customarily involves a diet of humble pie and the need to turn the page in a hurry. By Sunday, the Yankees’ mental files were whipping through new challenges.

If Gregorius is not available — this week, as the team tries to nail down home-field advantage in the wild-card game, or in the  game itself or in future playoff games — Boone can start defensive whiz Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop and sacrifice offense. Or he can sacrifice defense by moving Gleyber Torres to short and playing Neil Walker at second.

Neither is a great option, particularly because the team does not have another lefthanded power bat that can rival that of Gregorius. And the righthanded power that is supposed to be the club’s strength is just not there.

Much has been made during the past week of how much the presence of Aaron Judge in the lineup is a high tide that raises everyone else. The fact is, though, Judge has yet to be an intimidating force in the batter’s box. Since his return from a right wrist fracture, he is 3-for-20. Gary Sanchez has not bounced back, either. His single in the first inning Sunday was his first hit in nine days.

“Trying to be more consistent, trying to get better results,” Sanchez said through a translator. “The focus has been to shorten up the swing, let the ball come in a little more and drive it to rightfield.”

All told, though, Judge, Sanchez and Giancarlo Stanton went 13-for-81 (.160) with two home runs (both by Stanton) in the final homestand of the regular season. This would not be a good time to lose Gregorius.

“I have some movement in there,” said the shortstop and the team’s tweeter-in-chief. “They say things like this have happened to other players, some of them played through it. We’re going to see day-to-day how it goes.”

For now, he and his team recognize that the postseason can be a painful time, even when it hasn’t started yet.

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