• Nothing was simple or straightforward about Greg Bird's ascension with the Yankees, but none of it mattered as he took the most important swing of his career in Game 3 of the ALDS.
By Kenny Ducey
October 09, 2017

Greg Bird has long been lauded for his patience. He debuted with a slow approach to the game that reminded evaluators of John Olerud’s. He rehabbed a shoulder injury the entire 2016 season. Foot surgery shelved him for over 100 games in 2017.

“I want to be a part of this,” he said in July.

On Thursday night, Bird was done being patient. He’d rehabbed. He’d fought for playing time. Now, he’d take the outcome of Game 3 of the ALDS into his own hands.

Bird turned on a 96 mph heater from Andrew Miller and hit a moonshot homer into the rightfield seats to keep the Yankees alive with a 1–0 win over Cleveland. It was just the second home run Miller had allowed all season to a lefty.

For one minute, the most mild-mannered kid at school became the life of the party.

Bird raced around the bases, celebrated with Todd Frazier near the on-deck circle and hopped into the dugout, where he’d pace back and forth like a madman, pounding his chest. All those days in rehab, and the games he watched from afar were a distant memory. The emotions were pouring out.

“He gave me a big forearm shiver and I couldn’t really feel my forearm for a couple minutes,” Frazier said. “That’s why I took the first pitch, to get my feeling back.”

The homer also marks the second in as many games for Bird, who has carried his hot bat over from September into the postseason. His two-out RBI single in the wild-card game gave New York the lead for good, and his towering shot in Game 2 of the ALDS is the reason the Yankees weren’t totally sunken by Francisco Lindor’s grand slam. Bird has become one of the few consistent components of this playoff team, something that was hard to envision for most just a few months ago, when even manager Joe Girardi said he “wouldn’t have bet on it.”

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“I bet on it,” Bird said after Game 3. “I bet on myself and I knew I could come back and be a part of this.”

The journey to this moment was a complicated one, involving multiple surgeries, hopeful moments, and eager workouts at Yankee Stadium. After a modest, yet short debut in 2015, Bird had labrum surgery the following offseason that he returned from in spring training. There, he was the biggest story, hitting seven bombs and reminding folks of the raw power that made him an enticing prospect.

Then came a miserable 19 games to start 2017, an ankle injury and finally surgery on the ankle in July, which most thought would end the slugger’s season. Yet, just as he envisioned, he made it back just in time to help the Yankees make a push into October.

“I don't really care about the ups and downs,” said Bird. “I just like being there. What a wild ride it’s been”

The 24-year-old became lost in the shuffle over the past calendar year with the breakout performances of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino, but he’s proving that not only is he just part of the core, he’s a vital to its early postseason success. He re-announced his presence on Sunday the same way he announced it in the first place—with rainbow shot into the second deck in right. It may seem like ages ago, but Bird’s mammoth first career homer was a fitting preview of what’d come a couple years later.

In Bird, Joe Girardi didn’t know if he had a first baseman for September, October, or even 2018, but now the Yankees’ outlook at that corner of the infield is coming into focus. And that’s the word.

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