By Lenn Robbins
When the ball left his bat, Gary Sanchez stay glued to the towering flight plan – a 407-foot drive arching toward left field fence. When it easily cleared the wall, landing about eight rows up, Sanchez formed an “O,” with his mouth.
Was it the “Oh” of surprise, the “Oh” of relief, or the “Oh” that comes with an epiphany? “This is it! This is who I was! This is who I can be again!”
“It feels good to get going this way,” said Sanchez. “I spoke about consistency before and I think I had that today in all the at-bats. So that’s something that I definitely want to keep on having throughout the other games. Stay calm. And also behind the plate as well. It was a good game.”
Sanchez could not have scripted a better start to this pivotal season. The Yankees opted to retain Sanchez, signing him to a one-year $6,350,000 make-it-or-break-it deal. He has had monster seasons, hitting 34 home runs in 2019 and he’s had miserably ones, striking out 64 times in just 156 at-bats last season.
For Sanchez to begin 2021 by going 2-for-3 – a two-run homer in the second that accounted for the Yankees runs, and a single in the seventh – was the possible golden lining in a 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays. Sanchez also caught Randal Grichuk trying to steal second.
Toronto ruined Opening Day in the Bronx but if there is one player, one enigma of a talent that can possibly transform this team from World Series contenders to champs, it is the 28-year-old Sanchez, whose career has become a saga.
His struggles at the plate barely overshadowed his troubles behind it. He threw out 36-percent of baserunners from 2016-2018. That numbed caved to 25-percent over the last two seasons. He has never been known for his ability to frame pitches.
By the time the Yankees got to the 2020 postseason, Sanchez had all but lost his starting job. His defense was a liability, his at-bats painful to watch.
“There were a couple things me and (hitting coach Marcus Thames) were working on the last three days of spring,” Sanchez said about his hitting. “We’re getting good results out of that. For me, I think it’s just keep going and following the routine we’ve creating. Focus on that and keep going forward.”
The Yankees trailed 1-0 after the Blue Jays tagged starter Gerrit Cole for three singles in the second. Toronto had two on and no outs but he worked out of it. Sanchez launched his two-run shot in the bottom of the inning.
“It’s nice to see, especially a good answer back, came at the right time, grabbed the momentum back in our favor,” said Cole, who went five and one-third, giving up two earned runs on five hits with eight strikeouts and two walks. “Good swing on a good pitch. Boys were fired up.”
Yankees fans would love to get fired up over Sanchez’s start but it’s a hard sell. He started spring training swinging a good bat only to finish by striking out in 45-percent of his at-bats.
If he’s not the most vexing playing in all of baseball, Sanchez certainly owns that position on the Yankees. His talent is unquestioned. His consistency is a question.
It’s only one game but had Sanchez opened with an 0-for-4 with a couple of strikeouts, the 10,850 fans would have pounced on him as they did Giancarlo Stanton, who went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. Sanchez, who said that last season was so tough because of the short spring training, also said he’s coming off his best spring.
“For me, I want to find that consistency,” he said, “and keep that consistency going behind the plate as well.”
If he does, the result will be a lot of “Oh!” moments.