Corey Kluber was great against eight out of nine Yankees last night. To those eight hitters, over 3.2 innings, Kluber gave up one hit, and he struck out six. In the biggest game of the year, he was almost fine. The problem was, one guy was a big problem for Kluber: A 27-year-old shortstop from Amsterdam, one who spent his first years in baseball as an unknown, but whose career, in retrospect, seemed to be building up to this moment.
Didi Gregorius has never stopped improving, and he hit a new peak last night. Gregorius’s first- and third-inning dingers completely sucked the life out of a packed Cleveland ballpark, finding yet another way to stun and disappoint a perpetually disappointed fanbase. Facing perhaps the best pitcher in the American League, Gregorius twice emerged the victor, putting on an encore performance to last week’s Wild Card game, in which his three-run first-inning dong completely reset a nearly out-of-control night.
A third-year Yankee on his third career team, Gregorius has slowly built himself into the kind of player who gets trusted in the most important games. Traded from the Diamondbacks after a year in which he only hit .226, with the Yankees only giving up Shane Greene, Gregorius was supposed to be a stopgap shortstop after Derek Jeter’s retirement, a defensive player with little pop. Instead, he’s set career highs in nearly every category each year in the Bronx, topping out in 2017 with a 3.9 fWAR, a .287 average and 25 homers, the last of which was a new single-season record for a Yankee shortstop.
What Gregorius did last night was all the Yankees needed in an eventual 5-2 win, and the guy who previously took a back seat to Judge and Sanchez was so huge in the biggest moment that he’s sparking Jeter comparisons. Never mind that, until Game 5, he had only notched one hit since that Wild Card game-changer. Gregorius got the clutch hits that really counted. Now he has even more to try to top.