It is all quite funny in retrospect, especially when you consider the Zen that descended upon everyone associated with the Yankees — fans, teammates, brass, everyone — when the game was tied in Cleveland the other night, top of the ninth inning, and they noticed who was stepping to the plate.
It was DJ LeMahieu. In another era, Yankees fans felt the same way when a gentleman named Tommy Henrich took a turn at bat. If the Yankees needed a hit, he’d deliver a hit. A sac fly? He’d do that. Hit behind a runner? Check.
The nickname, one of the great ones in a Yankees history that is virtually overrun with brilliant nicknames, was “Ol’ Reliable.”
DJ LeMahieu is Ol’ Reliable 2.0.
“I think we all felt there was a good chance that something good was going to happen there,” Aaron Boone said the other day, speaking for the entirety of Yankee Nation.
LeMahieu took strike one from Brad Hand. He fouled off one, for an 0-and-2 count. And this is where he always seems to be at his toughest. Hand tried to force a slider by him. LeMahieu put it in play, past Hand, through the middle, maybe 15 hops on its merry way through the infield. Yankees 10, Indians 9.
Ol’ Reliable, at your service.
It is amusing, of course, to remember how all of this started for LeMahieu and for the Yankees, back in January of 2019. Fans of the game suspected that Brian Cashman had pulled off a clever ploy in signing LeMahieu to a two-year, $24 million deal. LeMahieu had won a batting title in Denver. He’d won Gold Gloves. More, he’d won the admiration, almost universally, of his teammates.
But that was the great Offseason Hunt of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. It had long been assumed either — if not both — would wind up a Yankee. Machado, especially, seemed like he could be a wonderful fit. The Yankees had already signed on Troy Tulowitzki — remember him? — as insurance in case Machado didn’t sign.
Machado didn’t sign.
And the prevailing question in the moment — hilarious as that is to ponder right now — was this: how will the Yankees find at-bats for LeMahieu?
“I was told to bring a lot of gloves, if that’s any indication,” LeMahieu said when he was introduced. “I think I can add a lot. You’ve got a lot of talented infielders there and we’ll kind of just see how it unfolds. But I’ll be ready to play wherever I’m needed.”
And from Day 1, he was. And it took until about Day 3 or 4 that everyone associated with the Yankees — fans, teammates, brass, everyone — realized just how fortuitous it was that LeMahieu brought all those gloves with him, and a propensity to hit the ball to right field, and a hitting stroke that, it turns out, wasn’t merely a product of Coors Field.
Ol’ Reliable 2.0.
“The way this whole team approaches our work, I’ve just been very comfortable here from Day 1,” LeMahieu said last week. “We know what we want to accomplish and we know what we need to do to get there. It’s just been an excellent fit.”
It almost seems perfect, too, that in this crazy, compacted baseball season that has been shrouded by the coronavirus from the start, LeMahieu actually began the year sidelined due to COVID-19. He wasted little time making his usual impact when he returned, won a second batting title, and solidified his place as one of the most trustworthy Yankees in memory.
It is hard to believe either of the other shiny toys available in free agency two winters ago could possibly have had the impact LeMahieu has had. What’s the old baseball saying? Sometimes the best trades are the trades you don’t make? Update that: sometimes the best free-agent signings are the ones you don’t see coming,
The ones that deliver the likes of DJ LeMahieu.
Ol’ Reliable 2.0.