Aaron Boone wanted Miguel Andujar to rest. But with two weeks left in the season, and home-field at stake in a likely one-game playoff, the manager may be reluctant to give his third baseman another day off.
After starting 37 of the previous 38 games, Andujar was left out of the lineup for the first time since Sept. 5, yet still nearly carried the Yankees to a comeback in Saturday’s 8-7 loss to the Blue Jays, hitting his second career grand slam.
Andujar initially entered as a pinch-hitter for Brett Gardner in the sixth inning, and drew a walk to load the bases, but Andrew McCutchen followed by striking out on three pitches, leaving the Yankees down by four.
When Andujar received the same chance, the AL Rookie of the Year favorite created more separation in the race.
“During the whole game, I kept myself ready and loose for any opportunity, if they needed me for anything,” Andujar said.
The Yankees needed him in the seventh inning, trailing, 8-3, with two outs.
Andujar approached the plate. Former Yankees reliever Tyler Clippard stood on the mound. The boos which had dominated the day in The Bronx were a distant memory.
The first pitch came. Andujar swung. The ball traveled to left.
Suddenly, the stadium sounded like the postseason had already begun.
It was Andujar’s 24th homer of the season, and eighth shot of the year to come in the seventh inning or later. Four of his home runs have tied the game. Seven have given the Yankees the lead. Again, the 23-year-old put his team in position to win.
“I think part of it’s makeup,” Boone said. “He’s shown this year having earned everything he’s got, having nothing handed to him, he’s taken this job and run with it. On top of that, what we’ve seen is a really gifted hitter, able to handle a lot of different pitches. He’s been as consistent offensively for us as, really, anyone. He’s one of those guys that anytime he comes up in a situation, in a tough spot, a tough pitcher, you love seeing him in the box, especially with runners on base.”
Andujar, who leads all rookie with a .299 batting average and 83 RBIs, hoped for one more opportunity, standing in the on-deck circle with two outs in the ninth, representing the winning run.
Luke Voit struck out. The chance never came. But bigger at-bats remain.
“Anytime [I] get an opportunity to hit, I’m gonna be ready,” Andujar said.