Oakland, Calif. — A new hope for the downtrodden empire?
His name, fittingly, is Luke.
Where would the 2018 Yankees be without Luke Voit? Quite possibly in dire straits, instead of being able to enjoy a few laughs in the very ballpark they hope to avoid visiting on Oct. 3.
It was Voit, the barely acclaimed July trade acquisition, who delivered an eighth-inning, 411-foot, solo homer off the A’s’ Fernando Rodney on Tuesday night, propelling the Yankees to a much-needed, 5-1 victory over Billy Beane’s upstart group at Oakland Coliseum that ended a two-game losing streak and extended their American League wild-card lead to 4 ¹/₂ games, five in the loss column, over the A’s.
“I think we’re going to get hot at the right time,” vowed Voit, the Yankees’ hottest hitter of late. “This team is so friggin’ dangerous. Especially when you get some of these guys back from injury, the sky’s the limit. I’m excited to get deep into the playoffs with this team.”
With Aaron Judge finally making some progress on his fractured right wrist, and with Didi Gregorius (left heel contusion) possibly rejoining the lineup this weekend in Seattle, the Yankees hope their returns can reignite their once-explosive offense by the end of the regular season. That constitutes dangerous thinking, however; what happens if Judge, clearly the straw that stirs the Yankees’ drink, can’t get back in sync by October following his serious injury?
Yet this exists as the prophecy the Yankees have created for themselves, their offense looking so lifeless so often of late. At junctures like Tuesday night, though, they should appreciate how much worse things would be if not for the surprise first baseman Voit, who has relegated the prodigy Greg Bird to a bench fixture.
“To see what he’s been able to do, to see the Luke Voit Show roll on, he’s been terrific,” Aaron Boone said. “Obviously the power speaks for itself, the number of big hits he’s gotten, but I think it’s consistently he’s thrown up quality at-bats, which makes you believe he can really maintain this. But he’s been huge for us.”
“Maintain” is probably an overly optimistic projection; the 27-year-old has a fantastic .381/.447/.881 slash line, including seven homers, in his past 12 games. Yet, with each big hit Voit adds to his collection, with each dramatic run around the bases — he raised his right arm as his tiebreaking shot traveled 411 feet and he greeted third-base coach Phil Nevin with a leaping, double high-five — he strengthens his argument that all he needed was the sort of opportunity that his original team, the Cardinals, never gave him.
The Yankees weren’t poised to give Voit much of a shot, either. They twice optioned him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after getting him from the Cardinals in what constituted a roster-management move (Chasen Shreve, who went to St. Louis, was out of minor league options).
Yet the continuing struggles of Bird created the at-bats for Voit, who has capitalized in a big way.
“It’s kind of cool, when we played the Tigers [last weekend], Victor Martinez said to me, ‘Man, you’re having so much fun out there, just enjoy every second. ‘Cause I thought I was going to play until I was 100.’ … I’m just trying to be Luke Voit. I’m not trying to be Mark McGwire.”
McGwire, Voit said, was his idol growing up outside St. Louis, and he appreciated getting such a huge hit here, where McGwire established himself.
“The guy makes me look like a little twig,” Voit said. “Hopefully I can hit as many home runs as [McGwire and Jose Canseco] did. I’ve got about 600 more to go.”
This marked the Yankees’ first victory over a playoff team (a club currently positioned to qualify for the postseason) since July 14, when they edged the Indians, 5-4, at Progressive Field. In between, they suffered six straight losses to such an opponent. They’re still not fixed, or whole.
They’re still in prime position to host that wild-card game, though, and Voit can take as much credit for that as anyone in the Yankees’ galaxy.
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