Joey Gallo, Anthony Rizzo Have Yankees Charging Full Speed Ahead Toward Red Sox

Abbey MastraccoContributor IIAugust 6, 2021

New York Yankees' Joey Gallo is congratulated by teammates after his three-run home run during the seventh inning of the team's baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

The phrase "Yankee moment" is tossed around quite a bit in New York City. When an impact player comes to a proud, storied franchise like the New York Yankees, greatness is expected right away. 

It's a little bit of an overblown concept, that a player is required to have a "Yankee moment," but everything in New York tends to be a little bit overblown. It's an intimidating place to fail, with a fanbase that will boo you for a single strikeout and tabloid culture that will plaster your face on the back page with a pithy pun. 

No wonder Joey Gallo entered Thursday's game against the Seattle Mariners pressing. The newest Yankee slugger had yet to hit a bomb in the Bronx after being traded from the Texas Rangers last week ahead of the deadline. Gallo, an All-Star outfielder who hit 25 of them for Texas this season, was gripping his bat so hard during batting practice it looked like the thing was going to splinter. 

The team's other big acquisition, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, wasted no time contributing. The former Chicago Cub drove in a run in his first six games with the Yankees, becoming the first Yankee to do so since RBI became a stat in 1920. 

Gallo, on the other hand, was just 2-for-23 in his first six games with the team. But he made up for that slow start Thursday night, going 3-for-4 with two doubles and a towering moonshot of a home run that turned a 2-3 deficit into a 5-3 lead in the seventh inning. 

New York Yankees @Yankees

You say goodbye and I say Gallo. https://t.co/iDeE8BkfKm

It was quite the moment—dare I even say his Yankee moment—for the kid who grew up wanting to wear pinstripes. 

"I was thinking in the outfield, the 10-year-old me would be crying and not believing what's going on," Gallo said in his postgame Zoom press conference. "It's really crazy. I had to take a step back from and be like, 'I'm in Yankee Stadium getting a curtain call from Yankee fans.' It's crazy to me."

What's not so crazy is the effect Gallo and Rizzo are having on the Yankees. They were acquired to give the lineup a left-handed presence in a lefty-friendly park, and they're doing exactly that. But they're doing more than just hitting in big spots, they're playing excellent defense, which is something the Yankees have not always done this season, and it's paying off at the right time. 

The Yankees are 6-1 since the trade deadline, at 59-49 they're now 10 games over .500 for first time this season and are currently riding an 18-8 run. Not only do they have a chance to hold off the Mariners in the Wild Card race, but they can gain ground on the Boston Red Sox, the team that currently holds the first AL Wild spot. 

Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

"The energy is at an all-time high," left-hander Nestor Cortes said following the win. "Hopefully we can keep it going."

Gallo and Rizzo give the Yankees a pretty good chance of keeping it going. 

The Mariners were up 3-2 in the seventh after rookie outfielder Jarred Kelenic homered off Chad Green. Kelenic, as you might remember, was supposed to play in New York when the Mets drafted him in the first round of the 2018 draft, but was traded to Seattle as part of the trade for closer Edwin Diaz and former Yankees' second baseman Robinson Cano. 

He's the type of player Yankee fans hate losing to. He's the kind of player that makes Yankee fans boo their own team. 

But a two-out rally by Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton set the table for Gallo, who launched a home run off his hometown friend Paul Sewald that went so high it briefly got lost in the lights above the Yankee Stadium facade before falling into the right field stands. The ball only traveled 331 feet but had an incredibly sharp 48-degree launch angle. Gallo had enough power to get it to go, and the short porch in right field was just short enough. 

"It was so high, you don't see very many that high," New York manager Aaron Boone said. "I got up out of the dugout because I thought it was going to go. It just kept going and hit that perfect spot."

It was Gallo's first home run as a Yankee and his first at the Stadium. Boone wasn't worried that his new slugger would fail to deliver in New York because the quality of his at-bats have been so strong. Gallo wasn't worried either, but it was a relief when the ball finally fell into the stands. 

"Once I saw it get out I was overcome with emotion a little bit," Gallo said. "It was just such a big at-bat and a big moment. You could feel that it could be a game-changing at-bat and I was happy I was able to come through and help the team win because I feel like there were a couple opportunities where I could have done that this week and I didn't, so obviously it felt pretty good to do that today."

Prior to the trade deadline, the Yankees lineup was good, but adding adding Rizzo in the No. 2 spot behind D.J. LeMahieu allowed Judge and Stanton to move down. Gallo provides some protection and adds some depth, which is necessary right now with Gio Urshela on the injured list and Gary Sanchez on the COVID-19 injured list. 

The importance of the duo was on display in the ninth inning as closer Aroldis Chapman labored through 30 pitches to convert the save. Without Urshela, the Yankees are using second baseman Rougned Odor at third base. He fielded leadoff man Tom Murphy's throw and made an off-balance throw to first base. It was a deceptively difficult pick, but Rizzo, a Gold Glove infielder, deftly gloved it for the first out of the inning. 

Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

Having a first baseman like Rizzo allows the infielders to make the best throws they can without the pressure of being perfect. 

"I think it's comforting knowing that you've got somebody who is really elite at that," Boone said. "Riz has said, 'Just get it to me, I'll catch it.' And there is some comfort in that."

Gallo made the last out of the game, tracking down a fly ball by Mitch Haniger at the left field with two left on base. It seemed like a fitting end to the first game in a four-game series. 

The true Yankee moments won't really come until the postseason. But if Gallo and Rizzo continue to have this kind of impact on the Yankees, then they'll get their shots to have them.