Whenever most people talk about the 2019 Yankees/Twins ALDS, they mostly pay attention to the Yankees’ savage offensive performance and a pitching staff that stifled one of the league’s premier offenses, and for good reason. The dominating performances up and down the lineup and by both the starting rotation and bullpen carried the bulk of the team’s load over the Twins. What really set them apart from their Minnesota counterparts, however, was the team’s elite and timely defensive performance throughout the series.
Combing through the play-by-plays of the ALDS, I found no fewer than seven top defensive plays that had some sort of significant impact, robbing opposing hitters from extra-base hits, stopping rallies in their tracks, and overall, contributing to the feeling of inevitability that came about down the stretch.
Oh, where do we begin with Aaron Judge’s defensive prowess? In the third inning of Game One, when he robbed Jorge Polanco of a base hit one batter before Nelson Cruz gave the Twins a 2-0 lead with a solo homer? Four innings later, when he made a diving catch to rob Eddie Rosario and save a run to help preserve a 7-4 lead?
No, these are great plays, but ones that other top defensive outfielders can make. The extra value that Judge brings in right field comes on those plays where only his combination of physical size and sheer athleticism allows him to make the play.
With one out and a runner on second, Judge covers a lot of ground and needed “every bit of his 6’7” frame,” to quote the broadcast, in order to rob Miguel Sano of a double, likely saving a run and deflating the Twins, who had seen every rally they started to put together stopped short by Yankees pitching and defense.
The Shift Works
The Yankees were in a bit of a pickle in the bottom of the fifth of Game Three. With Adam Ottavino and Tommy Kahnle already used, Chad Green was in to pitch with two outs and two on, including the tying run. Eddie Rosario drilled it into short right field, and it looked like the Twins might cut the lead in half at the least.
But Gleyber Torres, playing in short right field due to the shift, ranged all the way to his right, came up with the ball, and threw it low to DJ LeMahieu, who had to scoop the short hop after beating Rosario to the bag, as his first step had been towards the ball, not the base.
Not only was it a flashy play with the leather, but the two middle infielders stopped a rally in their tracks while the game was still close.
An Out and a Scare
Not all great plays come for free, however. Also in Game Three, in the bottom of the seventh, Polanco hit a bouncer in between the mound and first that got past LeMahieu. Although Torres fielded it easily, he had to make the perfect throw to Zack Britton, racing the Twins shortstop to the bag.
He narrowly beat him by half a step, but came up wincing in the process. Good plays sometimes require some sacrifice.
The Shield That Guards the Infield
With runners on first and second and, down by four with one out in the ninth, Jorge Polanco (boy, he hit into some bad luck this series) came to the plate against Aroldis Chapman. He rocketed a line drive up the middle at 106.1 mph. Not surprisingly, all Polanco got for his efforts was a big “6” next to his name in the scorecard.
A great defensive play that, although not the game-ender, helped put a pin in the Minnesota Twins’ season.
There are many more plays besides these that Yankees defenders made, such as LeMahieu’s stabbing of a Sano line drive down the first base line to rob him from a double and the ball boy’s great play on a bouncing foul ball. On their own, each of these plays would have had some impact of their games; together, they helped stifle the Twins’ offense throughout the ALDS, and allowed the Yankees smooth sailing through the first round of the playoffs.