New York Yankees opened the Yankee Stadium portion of their schedule Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Rays (NYY 11, TB 4). Giancarlo Stanton struck out a career-high five times in his first home game as a Yankee, . Ouch., the
With Stanton struggling, the star of the show Tuesday was Didi Gregorius, the underrated Yankees shortstop who has settled in as the team's cleanup hitter sandwiched between Stanton and Gary Sanchez. Gregorius went 4 for 4 with a double, two home runs, and eight RBI in Tuesday's game. Here are his two three-run home runs:
"He picked me up today. That's what a cleanup hitter does -- he cleans up the garbage in front of him," said Stanton to reporters about Gregorius' performance after the game.
Gregorius is the first Yankee with eight RBI in a game since Alex Rodriguez had a 10-RBI game in 2005. He's the first shortstop with eight RBI in a game since Nomar Garciaparra in 2002, and, according to the YES Network broadcast, he is the first player ever with eight RBI in a home opener. Position doesn't matter, team doesn't matter. No player in baseball history had driven in eight runs in his team's first home game of the season prior to Gregorius on Tuesday.
The personable Sir Didi -- he was knighted back home in Curacao years ago, so he is a "Sir" -- sends out a postgame tweet after each Yankees win in which he praises his teammates, complete with personalized emojis. He never says anything about himself, however, and that was again the case Tuesday.
So far this season Gregorius is 8 for 18 (.444) with four doubles, one triple, two home runs, and one single through five games. He recorded seven extra-base hits before picking up his first single, a two-run bloop in the eighth inning Tuesday. Gregorius and A-Rod circa 2007 are the only Yankees ever with seven extra-base hits through the team's first five game.
Three years ago Gregorius started his Yankees career so poorly that "De-Rek Je-Ter!" chants rang throughout Yankee Stadium during the home opener. On Tuesday, he got a curtain call and fans chanted "Di-Di!" during each at-bat. Gregorius looked completely overwhelmed in his first few days as Jeter's replacement, but in the three seasons since, he's developed in a standout two-way shortstop who ranks among the game's most underrated players.
Here is where Gregorius ranks among the 33 shortstops with at least 600 plate appearances from 2016-17:
- Batting Average: .281 (ninth)
- HR: 45 (fourth)
- XBH: 106 (seventh)
- RBI: 157 (fourth)
- WAR: +6.6 (ninth)
Yes, Gregorius plays his home games in homer-happy Yankee Stadium, but it should be noted he hit nearly as many homers on the road (22) as at home (23) from 2016-17. He absolutely benefits from the short right field porch as a left-handed hitter -- did you watch the video of his two homers today? The first barely clearly the wall -- but that short porch alone isn't responsible for his performance the last two years.
Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and Corey Seager make up the top tier of shortstops right now. That seems pretty clear to me. They are the cream of the crop. Gregorius, based on the last two years as well as his super early 2018 performance, has cemented himself in the next tier alongside guys like Andrelton Simmons, Xander Bogaerts, and Elvis Andrus. He's broke out with the bat and his defense has always been very good.
It's kind of silly to say a Yankees player is underrated, but these days, when the best shortstops in the game are discussed, rarely is Gregorius mentioned. He's never been an All-Star, he's never won a Gold Glove, he's never done any of that. Gregorius has become a heart and soul Yankee though, and on Tuesday, he made home opener history.