By Joe Pantorno
From the Arizona Fall League to Mahoning Valley, OH, to Eastlake, OH, to the Carolina League, to Akron, OH, to Columbus, OH, to the Venezuelan Winter League, to the Cleveland Indians, back down to Columbus.
For nine seasons, New York Yankees third baseman Gio Urshela was put through the wringer within the Indians’ system before he was practically thrown away to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2018 for “a player to be named or cash.” Less than three months later, he was purchased from the Blue Jays by the Yankees — a seldom-used infielder who, at 27, had just 167 games of MLB experience, a slash line of .225/.274/.315 with eight home runs and 39 RBI.
Now, as Wednesday night descended into early Thursday morning, he made his original team pay dearly.
Urshela reeled off one of baseball’s revenge games for the ages, smashing a go-ahead grand slam in the fourth inning to provide the Yankees with 40% of their runs in a 10-9 victory to sweep the Indians out of the Wild Card Series and punch New York’s ticket to the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Down 4-1 in the fourth inning, the Yankees loaded the bases against Carlos Carrasco, who had been relatively cruising through the opening three innings with six strikeouts. But Cleveland opted to go to their bullpen, going for James Karinchak, a reliever Urshela had never batted against.
It didn’t matter, as he took a 3-2 four-seamer and launched it well into the left-centerfield bleachers to give the Yankees a one-run advantage.
“Trying to get a pitch to hit. It went to 3-2 count, just trying to put the ball in play… Thank God I got the homer.”
GIO URSHELA LAUNCHED THE BALL AND THEN HIS BAT 😳
This is the 13th grand slam by the Yankees in postseason history. pic.twitter.com/webvzQ1jFy
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 1, 2020
As for how it felt to smack such a big fly against the team that didn’t give him much of a chance?
“To be honest, I can’t remember [how I felt],” the modest third baseman said. “I just remember when I hit the ball, when I was giving hi-fives to my teammate, what a moment. It was a great feeling.”
The lead wouldn’t last as the two clubs swapped advantages like baseball cards, but it was the Indians who snagged a 9-8 lead in the bottom of the eighth with their season on the line — and they were poised to pour on some more.
With runners on first and second with one out follow Cesar Hernandez’s go-ahead single, Carlos Santana hit a sharply-hit grounder ranging near the hole between third base and shortstop that looked destined to find the outfield grass. But Urshela’s heroics with the lumber were joined by the leather, as he made a superb diving stop, shifted to his backside, and sparked an inning-ending double play to keep the Yankees’ deficit at just one.
“That was a huge play for us, for our team,” Urshela said. “That helped the team to get that energy to keep fighting.”
WOW 🤯 What a play by Gio Urshela!
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 1, 2020
One of the oldest phenomenons in baseball is seeing a player follow up a web gem with a big at-bat and Urshela only fueled that sensation, helping spark the Yankees’ come-from-behind, ninth-inning rally by lofting a no-out single after a Giancarlo Stanton lead-off walk against Indians closer Brad Hand to grease the wheels into motion.
As was fitting, it was Urshela who came around to score on DJ LeMahieu’s game-winning single following Gary Sanchez’s tying, bases-loaded sacrifice fly.
“That was one of the best games I ever played in my life,” he said. “We never put our head down. We always try to focus on the game. We always are going forward to get any chance.”
Coming out of nowhere to take over every-day responsibilities at the hot corner, Urshela’s Game 2 is nothing new for the Yankees.
Over the last two years, a combined 175 regular-season games with the club — an opening that presented itself after Miguel Andujar’s season-ending injury — the 28-year-old’s slash line is at .310/.358/.523 with 27 home runs and 104 RBI.
“Every time I see my name in the lineup, I try to do my best, I try to help my team, and I try to win that game,” he said. “That’s always my mentality.”
Just another example of what the mystique the Yankee uniform can do for a ballplayer.