MINNEAPOLIS — The loud crack sent Aaron Hicks into motion, his legs churning violently on what he described as «a do-or-die play.» As his chest thudded hard against the warning track in left-center field, he nestled the baseball securely in his glove, acquiring a mouthful of dirt in the process.
Hicks’ incredible catch stole an extra-base hit and sealed the Yankees’ wild 14-12, 10-inning victory over the Twins on Tuesday night at Target Field, in what immediately became a contender for the best game of the year. It also offered a tantalizing preview of what could await both clubs in the postseason.
The link to all the videos of this sensational game:
«It was a great game by both sides,» Hicks said. «It was probably one of the most fun games I’ve ever played. So many lead changes, just a lot happening. And it was fun.»
There were five lead changes or ties in the final three innings, the last of which was provided by Gleyber Torres‘ run-scoring single in the top of the 10th.
Adam Ottavino walked the bases loaded in the home half of the frame, and the Twins’ Max Kepler sent all three runners in motion, barreling a 96.9 mph fastball from Chad Green toward the wall.
Fortunately for the Yanks, Hicks said he had noticed catcher Austin Romine was set up outside, prompting Hicks to shade a few steps to his right. That adjustment made all the difference in helping Hicks rob Kepler, whose expected batting average on that particular ball was .560, based on the exit velocity and launch angle.
«That’s one of those games, for being late July, we’ll probably be talking about for a long time,» Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. «Our guys are just really, really good at competition. That was the ultimate competition out there, where it was tough for both teams on the mound and so many guys did some really, really special things.»
Seven RBIs for Sir Didi
Didi Gregorius single-handedly kept the Yankees in the game early, mashing a two-run double in the first inning and slugging a three-run homer in the fifth, both of which came off starter Kyle Gibson. The homer was the 100th of Gregorius’ career.
The Bombers’ shortstop finished the evening 5-for-5, playing a key role in a five-run eighth that completed the comeback from what had been an 8-2 deficit after four innings.
«I was trying to drive the ball to left-center and trying to stay consistent,» Gregorius said. «I did that with the first pitch that I saw from Gibson today, tried to drive it to left-center. I stay back on curveballs and changeups, and I’m able to drive them and hit them hard. It’s a work in progress, but so far it’s good.»
Gregorius’ fourth hit came off of Tyler Duffey, and he added a one-out single in the 10th, racing home with the go-ahead run when Torres singled off Kohl Stewart. Gregorius and Torres also nearly teamed on what would have been an amazing double play to end the game.
“He’s just so consistent,» Judge said. «That’s what Didi does. He’s going to go out there and keep giving you quality at-bats. That was fun to watch. I got to be on base for a couple of those hits, so it was fun to watch him work.»
No relief, no surrender
Outs were in short supply all night, beginning with starter Domingo German, who was pounded for eight runs and nine hits in 3 2/3 innings. It marked the third straight start that the pitching-hungry Yankees have seen their starter allow seven runs.
Miguel Sano responded to the five-run eighth by putting the Twins back on top in the home half of that frame, crushing a 457-foot drive off Zack Britton that cleared the bullpens in left field. It was Sano’s second homer of the game, after slugging a three-run shot in the fourth off German.
«It was fun, every minute of it,» Judge said. «Even going down and them taking the lead, that was fun. Who wants it more? Who is going to step up and deliver the big hit for us? Guy after guy continued to do that. That’s what championship teams are made of.”
Asked to protect a one-run lead in the ninth, Aroldis Chapman faltered for the fifth time this year and the second straight outing, walking the bases loaded before serving up a Jorge Polanco sacrifice fly.
«It was one of those nights where he loses the command, loses the strike zone,» Boone said. «Every now and then, he’ll have that. We’ve also seen him this year in one of the blown saves and was able to work his way through it. I like that he just continued to compete and continued to pitch when it was obviously tough for him there for the first few hitters.»
Hicks plays hero
The Twins once believed that Hicks would develop into a bona fide star, though that dream had faded by November 2015, when he was traded to the Yankees. With the Yankees down to their final out, Hicks showed off his tools on Tuesday, cracking a two-run homer off Taylor Rogers.
“It was good,» Hicks said. «It was a fun experience to be able to do it here, but I’m just glad my team was able to come out of it with the win.”
Hicks’ 11th homer of the season, of course, was simply a precursor to the catch that had the Yanks turning up the bass in the visitors’ clubhouse.
Kepler grumbled, «You do everything right and it gets caught,» while Gregorius lauded Hicks’ grab as the best he had ever seen to end a game.
«That’s why he plays center field for the New York Yankees,» Judge added. «He makes plays like that. Right off the bat, I knew he was going to make it. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind.»