Luke Voit is a meaty midwestern lad who can’t or won’t button up his jersey all the way and whose grandmother still sends him $25 for every home run he hits, and there have been a lot of $25 checks from Nana in the last couple of months.
Voit did not homer in Wednesday night’s 7-2 Yankees win over the A’s in the wild card game—Nana can put her checkbook away—but he thought he had it, for a second. His high drive to right in the sixth inning fell a foot or two short, banging off the wall for a two-run triple that made the game 5-0 and basically sealed things. Voit admired his shot out of the box, and even raised an arm, and said later his teammates were making fun of him for pimping a homer that wasn’t in a game where the Yankees’ other dingers, from Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, were both no-doubt moonshots. “But I got my first triple,” Voit said.
Voit’s first career triple (he is, let us say, not swift) was hard-earned. He was the first batter to face Oakland’s all-star closer Blake Treinen, called on by Bob Melvin far earlier than he wanted, but the situation was as high-leverage as it was going to get. There is clearly a book on Voit, Treinen threw him eight straight sinkers, all in the high-90s and all but the first two inside, in an attempt to keep Voit from being able to extend. But Voit’s swing is a little shorter than many power hitters’, and while clearly overmatched by the two-seamers, he managed to repeatedly foul Treinen off and keep the at-bat alive.
So much of the pitcher-hitter matchup is a guessing game. But they’re educated guesses. Treinein figured he had Voit so intent on protecting the inside of the plate against fastballs that on the ninth pitch, he offered up a breaking ball, a slider, out over the middle. Voit’s bat was quick enough to get around on it, and nearly put it out of the park the other way.
One pitch later, Voit scored on a sacrifice fly to make it 6-0. And believe me, he did not sign up for all this running.
“When Didi hit that sac fly, my legs were burning (from the triple) and my lungs were burning from all the screaming and yelling,” Voit said with a laugh. “It was unbelievable.”
Every successful team has a guy like this—Max Muncy??—and certain teams seem to have more than their fair share of them, players who come out of absolutely nowhere to get red-hot for a month or for a season. Voit, this year’s winner of the Yankees’ Kevin Maas Memorial Shane Spencer Award (Presented By Shelley Duncan), was acquired in July from the Cardinals and was an afterthought in his own deal, which was mostly about obtaining international slot money. But the Yankees had a glaring hole in the lineup at first base, and they believed Voit—27 years old and up and down from the big leagues since making his MLB debut last season—had “upside.”
This is what upside looks like. Voit is hitting .333/.405/.689 with 14 home runs in 39 games for New York, and in September sported the AL’s fourth-best OPS. He kept the Yankees order fearsome even in the injury-related absences of Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Didi Gregorius. He is loving it; he called his playoff debut “almost like a Christmas morning kind of thing.”
Voit’s Christmas involves a lot of booze. In a celebratory locker room, he was by far the biggest target for sprayed champagne (and he is a big target to begin with). Give him more. He wants it all. “I want it so bad,” he said, “I’m drinking as much of it as I can, and I’m having a blast.”