Whether this week actually counted as his first Yankees-Red Sox games in person, even Andrew Velazquez didn’t sound sure.
“Those tickets were probably too expensive for me,” the Bronx native said late Wednesday night.
Well, here at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees’ fourth-string shortstop rewarded those who paid a hefty admission fee.
This improbable pinstriped season took another nail-biting turn, with the Yankees prevailing, as has been their style of late. When Velazquez and the returning Anthony Rizzo teamed for a superb final play, the Yankees secured a 5-2 victory over the rival Red Sox, closing out a three-game sweep against their former tormentors and — thanks to the White Sox’s 3-2 triumph over the A’s in Chicago — carving out exclusive possession of the top American League wild-card slot.
They did so with Velazquez, 27, who delivered a pair of RBI singles in addition to his game-ending glovework, earning the cherished championship wrestling belt, which sparked him to offer a heartfelt speech to his teammates.
“In that locker room, with those guys, I’ve dreamt of doing what I just did,” Velazquez said, recounting his words. “In real life, it was way better.”
Probably way more nerve-wracking, too. These being the 2021 Yankees, the ninth inning turned turbulent when closer Aroldis Chapman, returning from the injured list, inherited a 5-1 advantage and served up a one-out homer to Hunter Renfroe, walked Xander Bogaerts and, with two outs, permitted a J.D. Martinez single. Aaron Boone correctly turned to lefty Lucas Luetge to go after former Met Kevin Plawecki, a righty swinger.
Plawecki pulled a grounder into the shortstop hole, where Velazquez ranged to his right, somehow avoided being blocked by third baseman Rougned Odor diving (and whiffing) in front of him and powered a throw to Rizzo, who snared it on a bounce.
“I was just ready for anything there, anything on the ground,” Velazquez said. “I didn’t know if Rougie was going to make a play on it, so I just wanted to see what was going to happen there. And then when I got it, I said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna throw it as hard and as low as I can so that Rizzo can just pick it. If not, I would’ve thrown it in the family section in the second deck.”
Yes, the Fordham Prep product is high-energy and very funny.
“He endeared himself to our room in spring training. I think everyone enjoyed getting to know him,” Aaron Boone said. “He can really play short, but he has the defensive versatility to move around. You see the speed that he has, and he can swing the bat a little bit. He’s gotten some big hits for us here the last couple of days and played really well in helping us win games.”
If he’s not crushing it statistically, with a .217/.217/.261 slash line, Velazquez now has three hits in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position. In the second inning Wednesday, against Boston starter Nick Pivetta, he grounded a base hit to right field to plate Odor from third base, giving the Yankees a 2-1 edge. And in the eighth, off Josh Taylor, he grounded a single to left to score Gary Sanchez from third to give the home team a 5-1 cushion, no small thing given the Yankees’ recurring ninth-inning malaise.
“See the ball, hit the ball,” Velazquez said, describing his approach in those situations. “Trying to maintain aggressiveness. Trying not to expand the zone. … Just trying not to do too much. My job isn’t to hit a homer necessarily, just put it in play and let something happen.”
Music to old-school ears, right? What a boon he has been for the Yankees, who have Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela on the injured list while Tyler Wade took the night off.
Losing their first seven games to the Red Sox feels like ages ago for these Yankees, whose new shortstop is staying with his parents in The Bronx.
“Way closer than staying in Manhattan,” Velazquez said. “Cheaper, too.”
“That’s special stuff,” Rizzo said of Velazquez’s speech. For the moment, that applies to most things about this wacky Yankees season, few more than Velazquez’s rise.
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