from Disha Tosar
FOX Sports MLB Writer
NEW YORK – Gleyber Torres took a few steps to his right, vacuumed up a ground ball just behind the bag at second base and fired a hard throw to first base. He got a strikeout, then flashed a big smile as he tossed the ball around the infield.
This out can be described as a regular part of any baseball game. But the moment was remarkable, not because of Torres’ sharp play, but because of his relaxed and cool body language — and the clutch hitting that followed.
In the sixth inning on Wednesday, with the Yankees trailing the Twins 3-1 in the first game of a doubleheader in the Bronx, Minnesota made the bold decision to give up Aaron Judge. The Yankees had a runner on first and the tying run that Judge was at the plate. Handing off Judge instead of intentionally walking him was an odd choice considering how much the rest of the Yankees’ lineup has struggled recently. And Yankees manager Aaron Boone had filled Scranton’s triple-A lineup in the first game with first baseman Ronald Guzman hitting in his season debut.
But the Twins failed to walk the umpire at least in part because the player’s defense was Torres, confirming that at least one Major League Baseball team still fears the damage the second baseman can do. Minnesota righty Griffin Jacks got Judge to pop out for the second out of the inning, bringing Torres to the plate. Torres fell behind on a 1-2 count before pouncing on Jax’s inside fastball, the perfect tonic for his slump.
Torres, who recently lost playing time to promising rookie Oswald Perasa, hit a two-run home run to left field to tie the game 3-3. You could see the heavy chains of his offensive chute breaking, the stubborn monkey finally letting go and jumping off his back. It was Torres’ 19th home run of the season, though just his third long ball since July 28. This home run has the chance to represent a significant turning point for the 25-year-old infielder, one that could spark a breakthrough for this otherwise difficult-to-watch Yankees offense.
Something about Torres’s attitude, his carefree spirit, from Wednesday’s jump suggested how his afternoon would play out. This wasn’t the Torres of August, who posted a .180/.204/.260 slash line with 33 hits in 100 at-bats. Last month, Torres’ tongue-in-cheek body language reflected the Yankees’ record: 10-18 with a team-high .297 on-base percentage. And on Wednesday, his shy smile and good spirit were once again a microcosm of New York’s success: The Yankees wrapped up a doubleheader while showing flashes of his wild first-half nature.
The past few months have been an adjustment period for both the Yankees and Torres. The team fell from a 15.5 game lead in the American League East on July 8 to just four games on September 3. Everyone on offense not named Aaron Judge has been unable to overcome injuries to lineup mainstays Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo and DJ LeMahieu.
Much of this recent failure, fairly or not, rests on Torres’ shoulders because he was supposed to be the cornerstone of the franchise. But he certainly didn’t act like it. While his peers were collapsing with injuries, instead of Torres stepping up and lifting the team, his struggles only deepened. Sure, his awful numbers showed the frustration — he’s batting .186 with a .543 OPS in 40 games since the All-Star break — but a quick look at the second baseman and his dismal disposition also showed it was deep-seated, and Torres was passing through it.
Like the rest of his Yankees teammates, Torres had a strong first half. His 14 home runs in 81 games were five more than he hit all of last season. His .809 OPS in the first half felt like a throwback to his All-Star years in 2018 and ’19. Torres excelled at the same time the rest of the lineup was ticking, helping the Yankees to the best record (64-28) in MLB before the break.
But doing well when the gaming landscape is rainbows and fairy dust doesn’t make a star. Judge soon became — and still is — the only offensive reason the Bombers remained playoff contenders. Torres fumbled as the Yankees broke down to start the second half. Boone didn’t hold back when assessing the 25-year-old recently, saying Torres often looked between pitches and was generally unsure in the box. Earlier this week against the Rays, Torres was dismissed to pick up scraps from the bench as Peraza started at second base instead.
Those are just some of the reasons why, as the Yankees closed out their back-to-back win against the Twins on Wednesday, Torres’ game-tying home run in the first game was all but overlooked.
Yes, his two-run shot in the sixth inning was powerful and exciting at a time when the Yankees could use more of the offensive prowess that got them to this point. Yes, his positive attitude is a welcome change that could help him break into his stardom or at the very least extend the lineup. But Torres needs to bring that incredible presence to the plate again and again and one more time for good measure. Only then can he be counted on to lift the Yankees from their less-than-satisfying performance to something resembling their first-half dominance.
Torres was partly to blame for the Yankees’ second-half slump, but his homer Wednesday showed that he could be entirely the reason the Yankees finish the regular season the same way they started it.
Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets for the New York Daily News. Follow her on Twitter at @Disha Tosar.
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