There’s a scene in Better Call Saul—a Breaking Bad spinoff centered around conniving lawyer Saul Goodman and however you’d choose to describe Mike Ehrmantraut (Wikipedia settled on “private investigator, head of security, cleaner and hitman”)—where an unnamed character taunts Mike, challenging him to take his gun away. “I’ll make it easy for you,” he says, waving the gun in front of him. Mike replies, “You can make it not so easy.”
That’s been the story of the Yankees’ season, hasn’t it? While other, lesser-equipped teams might wilt under the pressure, bowing to outside challenges like injuries and trades gone awry (Marcus Stroman and Trevor Bauer, both rumored Yankee targets, went elsewhere at the trade deadline), New York’s resiliency has been unparalleled. The Bombers’ injured list is thicker than George Costanza’s wallet, an endless rolodex containing names like staff ace Luis Severino, former National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton and last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up Miguel Andujar. The latter two have barely played while the former is still waiting to make his season debut. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius have each missed extended stretches. New York’s winter blockbuster James Paxton has been a dud. Masahiro Tanaka’s ERA against the Red Sox is north of 40. Aroldis Chapman, who likes to mix in at least one disastrous month every year, chose July this time (8.31 ERA). Aaron Boone’s unhinged “Savages” rant didn’t make a lick of sense. Yet, through it all—some of the obstacles self-imposed, others a simple product of bad luck—the Yankees can’t for the life of them stop winning baseball games. It doesn’t matter who’s on the lineup card—Mike Ford, Mike Tauchman, Breyvic Valera, Kyle Higashioka—everything the Yankees touch turns to gold.
Maybe Thursday’s victory over Toronto (nobody’s idea of a world-beater) isn’t the best example of how the Yankees have forged a baseball powerhouse on the strength of relative unknowns, conquering the AL East with discarded parts that other, less resourceful teams couldn’t be bothered with. But Thursday did shine a light on the continued brilliance of Gio Urshela, whose carnage against the Blue Jays (his last employer before the Yankees plucked him off the scrap heap for “cash considerations”) included three hits, four RBI and two towering home runs, both traveling in excess of 400 feet.
Beginner’s luck? Guess again. In fact, Urshela’s eruption at Rogers Centre may not even be his best performance in the last 48 hours. Mr. Cash Considerations went deep twice in Baltimore Wednesday night, supplying four RBI in a lopsided Yankees victory. If we extrapolate it further, the 27-year-old Colombian has hit an astounding .513 (20-for-39) with six homers and 13 RBI over the life of his 10-game hitting streak. That monster stretch has brought his average up from an already-decent .295 to its current .323. All this from an untapped journeyman who entered 2019 with a pitiful .225 lifetime average over 466 major-league at-bats. White-hot, red-hot, scorching-hot—Urshela has surpassed all of these descriptors. He’s ghost-pepper hot. Maybe even Carolina Reaper hot.
Urshela’s early-season success was fun to talk about, a nice flavor of the month to carry the discussion until mainstays Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton (who were both injured at the time) resumed their place at the table. But most of us merely dismissed it as the second coming of Linsanity, a flash in the pan from a marginal hitter more known for his slick glove-work than his batting prowess. And inevitably, Urshela did come back to earth, particularly as Didi and others got healthy, limiting him to part-time status. But he never quite faded from the picture and now Urshela’s well-deserved victory lap has finally come. In a year chock full of improbable pinstripe performances—end-of-the-rotation starter Domingo German leading the majors with 15 wins, Mike Tauchman supplanting hot-head Clint Frazier as New York’s outfielder of the future, free-agent steal DJ LeMahieu proving he can hit outside Colorado state lines—Urshela’s hero turn stands alone as the ultimate rags-to-riches success story. Whatever’s gotten into Urshela, who many will forget began the year in Scranton/Wilkes-Barres (the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate), the Bombers need him to keep it up, especially with lineup staples Luke Voit, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton and Edwin Encarnacion all nursing injuries.
While it may have been overshadowed by the Yankees’ pyrotechnics, an offensive display that included 12 runs, 15 hits and three homers, you can already see the seeds of Toronto’s bright future beginning to sprout. Bo Bichette, who has emphatically announced his presence with a debut week for the ages, continued his annihilation of big-league pitching with another standout performance Thursday night. The 21-year-old extended his hitting streak to 11 games (that’s all he’s played so far), contributing a double and a mammoth 441-foot home run in the losing effort. Bichette, who isn’t even the most heralded rookie on his own team—that honor rightfully belongs to dread-locked third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr.—has recorded an extra-base hit in nine straight games, the longest-such streak by a first-year player since Ted Williams (he of 19 All-Star appearances and two Triple Crowns) did the deed in 1939. Thursday marked the shortstop’s home debut after spending the first 10 games of his big-league tenure outside Canada. Between Bichette, Vlad Jr. and Cavan Biggio, all sons of prominent major-league sluggers, the youth-infused Jays have a lot to look forward to in the years to come.
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AL Quick Hits: MLB announced Thursday that the Yankees and White Sox will pay homage to Field of Dreams by playing on the same farm where the movie was filmed 30 years ago in Dyersville, Iowa. The game, which will be held in a temporary 8,000-seat stadium adjacent to where Kevin Costner famously portrayed Ray Kinsella, is scheduled for August 13, 2020. … Gary Sanchez appeared in his second rehab game for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Thursday and is aiming to return to the Yankees’ lineup Saturday against Toronto. The All-Star catcher had missed the previous two weeks with a strained groin. … Lourdes Gurriel went down in a heap after suffering an apparent quad injury while legging out an infield single in Thursday night’s loss to the Yankees. The Jays outfielder had to leave the game, though manager Charlie Montoyo believes it was just a cramp. Gurriel is tied for the team-lead with 19 homers. … Nelson Cruz gave the Twins a scare Thursday night, exiting mid at-bat with a strained left wrist. Minnesota has labeled him day-to-day. The 39-year-old leads all major-league hitters with 16 homers since the All-Star break. … Coming off one of the worst starts of his career (and an ejection to boot), Chris Sale redeemed himself by hurling eight innings of shutout ball in a convincing win over the Angels Thursday at Fenway Park. In doing so, Sale reached 200 strikeouts for the year, a milestone he’s reached in seven straight seasons. … David Price is headed to the injured list with a cyst on his left wrist. That could explain why the Red Sox left-hander has scuffled to a 10.59 ERA over his past four starts. Brian Johnson will fill the rotation spot vacated by Price. … Three weeks after going down with shoulder inflammation, Andrew Heaney will return to face the Red Sox Saturday at Fenway Park. The Angels lefty did not require a rehab assignment. … Now in his second stint with the Tigers, who he last pitched for in 2009, journeyman right-hander Edwin Jackson has once again been summoned to the majors. He’ll draw the start for Detroit Friday against Kansas City. The 35-year-old has pitched for 14 of the 30 MLB teams since arriving in 2003.
NL Quick Hits: The Phillies welcomed back a familiar face Thursday with the return of Jay Bruce, who needed three weeks to fend off a strained oblique. The 32-year-old looked rusty, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout in the Phillies’ loss to San Francisco. Madison Bumgarner flirted with a no-hitter in that game (Cesar Hernandez broke it up with a pinch-hit single in the sixth) and also had a strong night offensively, reaching base in each of his three plate appearances. … The Braves received some bad news Thursday with the announcement that Austin Riley is dealing with a partial tear in his right LCL. He’ll have his knee examined by renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews on Monday. Among rookies, only Pete Alonso (30) and Christian Walker (17) connected on more homers than Riley (16) during the first half. … In another Braves injury development, GM Alex Anthopoulos echoed Thursday that Dansby Swanson (no relation to Pawnee Director of Parks and Recreation Ron Swanson) “isn’t close” to returning from a bruised foot, an injury that has bothered him since late July. Johan Camargo and Charlie Culberson have been spelling him at shortstop over the past two weeks. … SNY’s Andy Martino reports the Mets are expected to have “some interest” in Joe Panik when he becomes a free agent Friday at 1 PM ET. Cast off by the Giants earlier this week, Panik played his college ball at nearby St. John’s and would fill a need for the Mets, who recently lost starting second baseman Robinson Cano to a torn hamstring. … The Padres have pressed the pause button on top pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore. The left-handed prodigy won’t pitch in any upcoming games, though he’ll continue to throw side sessions and could potentially pitch in the postseason, should Double-A Amarillo advance that far. The former third-overall pick has pitched to a brilliant 1.72 ERA in 99 1/3 innings between Amarillo and High-A Lake Elsinore this season. … Reds rookie Aristides Aquino put a charge in one Thursday against the Cubs, depositing Cole Hamels’ third-inning offering into the left-field seats for the third home run of his young career. The 445-foot missile came off the bat at an exit velocity of 118.3, the hardest-hit ball by a Reds player in the Statcast Era (since 2015). … Javier Baez and Kyle Farmer came together for a highly entertaining encounter in the ninth inning of Thursday night’s Cubs/Reds showdown. The right-handed Baez tried his hand as a lefty batter against Farmer, a second baseman by trade who was tasked with pitching the final 1 1/3 innings of Cincinnati’s blowout loss. Baez ended up flying out to center field on a pitch so slow it didn’t even register on the stadium radar gun.