December 5, 2022

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Torres finds his moment with walk-off hit

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NEW YORK — Long before unfortunate ninth-inning fan behavior in the outfield capped Saturday’s game, Gleyber Torres quietly and dutifully spent the early moments of Saturday’s game taking swings underneath the first-base grandstand, vowing to be ready for a chance to contribute.

Torres started his afternoon as the odd man out in the crowded infield, then ended it with a joyous roar, thumping his chest after delivering a walk-off hit in the Yankees’ wild 5-4 victory over the Guardians in the Bronx.

“It’s amazing,” Torres said. “During the game, I was just back in the cage, trying to be ready with my swing. I did my routine to be ready for an opportunity, and I got an opportunity. For every player, it’s tough — we want to play every day, but I just control what I can control.”

The Yankees would not ignore the other incidents of that half-inning, with manager Aaron Boone saying that “there’s no place for throwing stuff onto the field.” But if we press the rewind button and go back a few batters, those moments were set in action by an encouraging rally off Cleveland closer Emmanuel Clase.

Trailing by a run heading to the ninth, courtesy of reliever Chad Green having surrendered a two-run homer to the light-hitting Austin Hedges, the Yanks displayed their mettle. Josh Donaldson worked a leadoff walk and yielded to pinch-runner Tim Locastro, who stole second as Aaron Hicks struck out.

Joey Gallo sent a broken-bat liner toward first baseman Josh Naylor for the second out, bringing up Isiah-Kiner Falefa. After beginning his Yankees career 1-for-17, the game seems to have slowed down for Kiner-Falefa, who also knocked in New York’s first run of the game with a fifth-inning single.

“When I get in the game, I’m just having fun,” said Kiner-Falefa, who is 13-for-30 (.433) since that slow start. “That was one thing I didn’t do in the beginning of the year; I was a little scared, a little timid. Now I’m not.”

Clase got ahead of Kiner-Falefa, uncorking a 100.3 mph fastball that the shortstop lashed deep. Steven Kwan crashed into the electronic scoreboard along the left-field wall, whipping the ball back to the infield as Locastro dashed home on a game-tying double.

“He’s gotten us a lot of big hits with runners out there,” Boone said of Kiner-Falefa, “and no bigger than today. He’s been terrific. He’s playing at a really high level.”

With Kwan momentarily stunned and receiving attention from Cleveland’s medical staff, a group of fans above the scoreboard jawed with center fielder Myles Straw, who climbed the fence at one point to exchange more words.

As that played out, Boone summoned Torres to grab a bat, sending him up to pinch-hit for catcher Kyle Higashioka. It has been an underwhelming opening to the season for Torres, still aiming to recapture his 2018-19 All-Star form and owning seven hits through his first 40 at-bats (.175) entering the game.

Once again, Clase was one strike away, this time deciding to try a 91.6 mph slider. Torres was ready, ripping the ball to the gap in right-center field as Kiner-Falefa trotted home with the winning run. Boone pointed to Torres’ pregame activities with a high-velocity machine as a contributing factor.

“His preparation put him in that position,” Boone said. “I’m just proud of him. Obviously he hasn’t played in a couple of games lately, but his work hasn’t suffered at all. In fact, it’s been maybe better. He was prepared, ready for the spot and delivered.”

Added Kiner-Falefa: “It shows a lot about character and the player he is.”

Torres didn’t see much of that scene in the outfield — he couldn’t, not with his teammates mobbing him between first and second bases.

Torres was rewarded with the Yankees’ championship belt for his efforts, bestowed upon the most deserving contributor after each victory. At his Stadium locker, Torres capped the day with an even more meaningful gift — cradling his newborn son, Ethan, a heartwarming scene that served as a welcome palette cleanser.

“Man, I feel so happy,” Torres said, “to do my job and help my team.”

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