BRONX, N.Y. — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is going to be a problem for every big-league pitcher for a long time, but it’s becoming very clear he’s going to torment the division-rival New York Yankees in a different type of way.
Just as he was on so many occasions in his MVP runner-up season a year ago, Guerrero Jr. is once again the talk of Major League Baseball after a superhuman two-stitch, three-homer performance Wednesday night in the Big Apple.
A day later, the Yanks were still marvelling at being singlehandedly served up a homefield ‘L’ by Vladdy’s bat.
“Pretty impressive to come into Yankee Stadium and do something like that, not a lot of people do,” Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge said. “He’s one of the best hitters in the game in my book, man. The numbers he put up, what he did for the Jays and almost put them in playoff contention, that’s MVP stuff right there. We’re probably going to be seeing a lot of the same thing this year out of him. Like I said yesterday, I wish I was at home watching him do it against the Red Sox or the Orioles and not watching it live. He’s a generational talent. He’s something special.”
The show started early, in the top of the first inning when Guerrero hit a shot to centre field that glanced off Yanks outfielder Aaron Hicks’ glove and had to be reviewed before being deemed his second round-tripper of the season.
In the bottom of the second, a great game in the making became a near-legendary tale when Hicks stepped on Guerrero’s right hand as he beat out an infield single, forcing the 23-year-old to the dugout with a blood-soaked towel wrapped around his ring finger.
But instead of being a devastating and potentially season-altering play, Vladdy quickly taped up and jogged out of the dugout, positioning himself defensively at first base like nothing had happened.
“I didn’t even realize I did it until after he ran inside and came back and I saw all the cuts and stuff,” Hicks recalled Thursday afternoon before the series finale. “It’s really incredible for him to be able to do that.”
“It kind of pissed him off a little bit,” Judge added with a smile.
He quickly put any health worries to rest when he turned on a borderline unhittable pitch in the very next inning for his second of the night off Yanks ace Gerrit Cole.
He completed the hat-trick in the eighth inning — his two career three-homer games have come against legit aces in Cole and Max Scherzer — while also adding an opposite-field double in the sixth for good measure to finish the night 4-for-4 with 14 total bases, the second-best single-game total in club history behind Carlos Delgado’s four-homer game back in 2003.
“I love hitting, man, and I’m a student of the game so I’m breaking down videos of Ohtani, Tatis, Guerrero,” Judge said. “They each do things differently and have different setups, but they all get to the same positions. With Vladdy, he’s got such a compact, easy swing, they can throw it in off the plate and he’ll drive it to left, they can throw up the middle and he’ll hit it to dead centre like we saw yesterday, and if they want to mess around and try to sneak something by him away, man, he’ll shoot that double down the line like he did last night, as well. I see a guy that can use all fields and just hit the ball where it’s pitched, and that’s the sign of a great hitter.”
Early in his career, Vladdy has taken a liking to Yankee Stadium.
In 26 career games here, he’s already bashed nine home runs.
Comparatively, his father hit five homers in 46 career games combined at old and new Yankee Stadium.
Figuring out how to attack Guerrero Jr., a hitter with no obvious holes and an elite approach, is going to be a major challenge, and even Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman will admit it.
“He’s going to be difficult,” Chapman said through his translator. “Like you said, when you have a guy with zone coverage like that and there doesn’t seem to be a weakness to attack, it’s going to be a hard challenge. At the same time, you’ve still got to execute your plan, whatever that may be.”
Cole will be revising his strategy, too.
“I think you’ve just got to go with what you feel like you can execute the best and take your chances,” said Cole, who tipped his cap to Guerrero on the mound after the opposite field double. “Maybe try to get him to leave the strike zone. One of those two strategies.
“He’s a superstar.”
Chapman also noted Guerrero’s obvious love for his work, something that was evident when he decided to keep himself in the game.
He could have taken the rest of the night off and had two stitches weaved into his finger immediately, instead of waiting until 20 minutes after the game to have it done.
“He’s a guy with a lot of talent and he’s very disciplined at the plate, as you can see,” Chapman said. “One of the things you can point out is the fun he has playing the game. That allows him to relax and perform the way he’s been performing. I think those two things go together.”
Josh Donaldson, who will very likely see his name alongside Vladdy Jr. as Blue Jays to win American League MVP awards someday, put it best.
“I don’t think he’s a kid anymore,” Donaldson said. “He’s a grown man now and he had a great night.”