NEW YORK — On Saturday, Yankees' general manager Brian Cashman took a stand for New York's struggling starting catcher.
"We are going with Gary Sánchez," Cashman said emphatically. "He is by far our best option on both sides of the ball and we look forward to him finding his groove sooner than later because we need it."
Entering the second game of the Yankees' doubleheader on Sunday, Sánchez was hitting .123 (10-for-81) with 37 strikeouts in 26 games played. Those woes have extended to his defense as well and even his body language as the season has drawn on this summer.
While one swing won't wipe away a dreadful first half of the season, what he did on Sunday night is certainly a start and a humongous step in the right direction.
Stepping in as a pinch hitter with the bases loaded in the eighth inning, extra innings in Game 2 of a seven-inning doubleheader, Sánchez clobbered a grand slam into the bleachers in left-center field to break a 1-1 tie.
Not only did it help secure a victory for the Bombers, as they went on to close out a 5-2 win in the bottom half of the frame, but it was the first pinch-hit grand slam in extra innings in Yankees franchise history.
"I wanted to go into the box looking to put a good swing on the ball," Sánchez said through the Yankees' interpreter. "I had the bases loaded and understood that if I hit the ball well, a deep fly ball, it would score a run and give us the lead. Luckily I hit that, it kept on going and it left the park."
It didn't just leave the park. Sánchez's sixth home run of the season soared over the visitor's bullpen, a 453-foot moonshot that was gone as soon as it left his bat.
The 96.8-mph fastball from Mets' right-hander Drew Smith was in a good spot for a 2-2 pitch—above the top of the strike zone—but the backstop did a tremendous job climbing the ladder to cap off what was a great at-bat. As soon as Sánchez made contact, stroking the heater with an exit velocity of 108 mph, a roar immediately echoed from the Yankees' dugout.
"I just like the matchup there," Yankees' manager Aaron Boone said on bringing Sánchez in to pinch-hit. "Thought he was having a good at-bat and then he gets to two strikes and still laid off some pitches that he should’ve and put a couple decent swings on balls and then got to one up in the zone and did what he can do with it ."
Boone had elected not to use Sánchez on Saturday afternoon with the game on the line, allowing veteran Erik Kratz to hit in the catcher's spot in the bottom of the ninth with the winning run on third base. Clint Frazier wound up scoring on a walk-off wild pitch, as Kratz never needed to swing the bat, but Sánchez had been standing in the dugout available as a pinch hitter.
With those aforementioned struggles in mind, a stretch that's included 16 hitless games and a dozen with more than one strikeout, Boone understood just how important the clutch homer will be for Sánchez moving forward.
"Anytime it’s been a struggle and we’ve all kind of been there, you want to get some results, you want to come through in a big spot in the worst kind of way," Boone explained. "I’m excited for him. He means so much to this team. I know how much he cares so I am happy for him to really take the air out of one."
One way that Sánchez has been working to improve in the box is getting extra reps in with New York's hitting coaches, taking swings off the high velocity machine. He said he's been working to get his bat head out in front to produce better contact. When it comes down to a situation and opportunity like Sánchez had on Sunday night, however, his approach was far easier to describe.
"We wanted to keep things simple. Just put the ball in play," he said.
The homer was instrumental in the Yankees sweeping the doubleheader, their second twin bill in the last three days, finishing off a five-game series with their crosstown rivals with a trio of wins. In the afternoon game on Sunday, New York won on a walk-off base hit from Gio Urshela after Aaron Hicks capped off a two-out, five-run rally to send the game to extras.
After a seven-game losing streak, to get three consecutive wins and gather momentum as the American League East leading Tampa Bay Rays come to town is invaluable. The Bombers will have their ace Gerrit Cole on the mound Monday evening, opening up a crucial three-game set.
"It's definitely big. We've been struggling to get wins and completing games and it feels great especially since today we were able to get two," outfielder Aaron Hicks said. "Especially with the Rays coming in. That's a team that we need to beat and we need to get back into that winning spirit of expecting to win and knowing we have the ability to win because we do, we know we do."
For Sánchez, who stood and admired his grand slam and flipped his bat before jogging around the base paths, the backstop can sleep well tonight knowing he made his GM proud. More importantly, he was able to accomplish what he's been yearning to do all season long.
"I’ve been very anxious to contribute to the team especially when you’re going through a rough patch and you’re not helping the team or producing for the team the way you’re expected. The way I expect myself to do," he said. "So when I hit that ball, I definitely knew it was going to be deep enough that at least it was going to get a run in, that’s why I stood there and looked at the fly ball because I understood that I was going to give my team a chance."
To keep up with all of Inside The Pinstripes’ coverage, click the "follow" button at the top right-hand corner of this page.