Gre­go­rius steps out of big shadow

Jeter’s re­place­ment takes star­ring role in Yanks’ play­off run.

The Palm Beach Post - - BASEBALL - By David Len­non Newsday

CLEVE­LAND — Yan­kees gen­eral man­ager Brian Cash­man never en­ter­tained the idea of re­plac­ing Derek Jeter when the Yan­kees’ cap­tain re­tired at the end of the 2014 sea­son. The best a gen­eral man­ager could do in such an im­pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion was find an­other short­stop, and maybe, over time, that player would make ev­ery­one miss their beloved No. 2 a lit­tle less.

But no one could have pre­dicted Didi Gre­go­rius even­tu­ally nudg­ing aside Jeter as he did dur­ing this break­out sea­son, and that con­tin­ued into Oc­to­ber, with Gre­go­rius hit­ting home runs in his first two at-bats off In­di­ans ace Corey Klu­ber in Wed­nes­day’s 5-2 se­ries clinch­ing vic­tory at Pro­gres­sive Field.

Gre­go­rius be­came only the ninth player to go deep twice in a sud­den-death play­off game, and the third Yan­kee, join­ing Yogi Berra (1956 World Se­ries) and Ja­son Gi­ambi (2003 ALCS). As in­stru­men­tal as Gre­go­rius has been to the Yan­kees’ sur­pris­ing 91-win sea­son, step­ping up on the play­off stage takes him to an­other level — at least to an el­e­va­tion that brings him into the Jeter con­ver­sa­tion.

Jeter helped the Yan­kees to five rings, in­clud­ing four in the first five years of his ca­reer. Gre­go­rius, 27, is not likely to at­tain the im­mor­tal­ity granted by a dy­nas­tic stretch such as that one. But he’s able to do just about every­thing else from the short­stop po­si­tion, with slick field­ing skills, a can­non arm and an of­fen­sive prow­ess that seems to grow by the day.

Gre­go­rius shocked Klu­ber in Wed­nes­day’s win­ner-take-all show­down, ham­mer­ing a 1-2 fast­ball over the right­field wall in the first in­ning.

As a mo­men­tum shifter, the homer was on par with the ty­ing three-run homer Gre­go­rius crushed in the wild-card win over the Twins, al­beit with a dif­fer­ent sound­track. On that Oct. 2 night, Gre­go­rius trans­formed the de­mor­al­ized Bronx into giddy bed­lam, ral­ly­ing the rest­less crowd and spark­ing the Yan­kees to the even­tual 8-4 vic­tory.

Gre­go­rius slugged 25 home runs dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, a record for a Yan­kees short­stop, edg­ing Jeter’s mark. And it’s not as if Joe Gi­rardi was hid­ing him. Gre­go­rius started 42 games in the cleanup spot, also the most for a Yan­kee at his po­si­tion. From 1913 to 2015, a Yan­kees short­stop hit in the No. 4 slot only 28 times.

Gi­rardi moved him up to third for the back end of the Di­vi­sion Se­ries, so he could break up the right-handed slug­gers, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. In the mean­time, Gre­go­rius strug­gled, and was only 1 for 13 head­ing into Wed­nes­day night. That im­proved in a hurry.

Af­ter what the In­di­ans’ faith­ful must have thought was a lucky punch, Grego- rius did even more dam­age in the third in­ning, thanks to Gard­ner’s open­ing sin­gle. One out later, Gre­go­rius fouled off a 91-mph cut fast­ball, then crushed an 87-mph curve­ball to the same lo­cale as the first homer, only 5 feet shorter. As the Yan­kees went crazy in the dugout, the In­di­ans had to be won­der­ing how things be­gan so wrong for them and shaken by who was the ar­chi­tect of Klu­ber’s destruc­tion.

GREGORY SHAMUS / GETTY IMAGES

Yan­kees short­stop Didi Gre­go­rius (right) be­came only the ninth player to hit two home runs in a sud­den-death play­off game, and the third Yan­kee, join­ing Yogi Berra (1956 World Se­ries) and Ja­son Gi­ambi (2003 ALCS).

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