Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius hits a two-run home run against the Orioles on Sept. 21, 2018, at Yankee Stadium.

USA TODAY Images

Block: Yankees Must Scramble For Contingency Plan In Didi's Absence 

Shortstop Has Tear In Wrist; Return Uncertain

Benjamin Block
September 24, 2018 - 9:37 am
Categories: 

The pose by Didi Gregorius on Saturday night after he safely belly flopped across home plate on the Aaron Hicks’ walk-off double was something of branding heaven. 

His chest and legs covered in dirt from the head-first slide, Gregorius, on both knees, held his arms out like he was hugging everyone in the stadium. The image conjured up the iconic posture of Patrick Ewing inside Madison Square Garden after his put-back dunk over the Indiana Pacers that sent the Knicks to the 1994 NBA Finals.

On Saturday night -- a full moon hanging over the Bronx -- Gregorius was a symbol of confirmation, strength and belief.

By Sunday afternoon, as we found out from manager Aaron Boone, an MRI revealed that the Yankees shortstop had suffered a small tear in his right wrist on that very slide that secured the Yankees a spot in the American League wild card.

PHOTOS: Yankees Celebrate After Clinching Wild-Card Berth

How do you contextualize grinding every day for six months to clinch the playoffs and then in less than 24 hours have that accomplishment be severely compromised?

In a word, "unsure.”

That’s not just how Boone felt upon hearing the news, but it’s also the word the rookie manager used to respond to reporters when asked when his shortstop will return.

“We’ll know more in a few days,” Boone said solemnly following Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles — the last home game of the Yankees' regular season.

Gregorius, who received a cortisone shot Sunday to aid pain relief, tried focusing on the positive.

“They say things like this happen to other players," he told reporters. "Some of them have played through it. We're going to see how it goes. If it feels better, I'll be back in there so we can still make that playoff decision."

Coincidentally, WFAN Yankees beat reporter Sweeny Murti was recently a guest on my podcast, "Block’s Corner," where he talked about how the Yankees weathered the loss of Aaron Judge when he was injured.

Referencing something he heard Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels say in 2013 in the wake of the Biogenesis scandal, Murti pointed out a harsh reality that the Yankees are now faced with again.

“There is no contingency plan for your best players,” he said he remembered Daniels saying, to which Murti added: “Nobody is designed to duplicate the production of your best players.”

It’s about as accurate a statement as one can make in response to a star player going down to an injury.

With only seven games remaining in the regular season — four at Tampa Bay and three at Boston — the conversation now shifts from whether the Yankees can secure home field for the Oct. 3 wild-card game to how the club will compensate for the loss of its shortstop.

It’ll be big shoes to fill, as Boone often refers to Gregorius as his infield captain. Up until Saturday night’s extra-inning thriller, Gregorius had set career highs with 86 runs scored, 27 home runs, 48 walks and 10 stolen bases. And sitting on 86 runs batted in, he is just one RBI shy of his career high (87), which he set last season.

Had the Gregorius injury not been the lead story after Sunday’s flat encore to Saturday night’s playoff clincher, it likely would have been about how Boone tried to steal a win from Baltimore while avoiding using many of his primary players.

And with a 3-1 lead Sunday through five innings, it looked as if his shortcut might work.

In relief of J.A. Happ — who struck out seven and gave up one earned run on five hits — A.J. Cole gave up three quick runs on two homers, and Tommy Kahnle, in relief of Cole, surrendered a run on a sacrifice fly. 

And so, a 3-1 Yankees lead became a 5-3 Orioles advantage, which turned into a 6-3 win for the lowly Birds.

Time may not have been afforded to the Yankees as they try to figure out their contingency plan for Gregorius, which just means they’ll have to rely even more now on their starting pitching. Fortunately, Yankees starters — since Sept. 7 — have allowed two or fewer earned runs in 13 of their last 15 starts, which is good enough for second best in Major League Baseball. 

The team with the lowest-rotation ERA in that time, however, is Tampa Bay. And that pivotal series begins Monday night.

Follow Ben on Twitter at @benjaminblock21.