It isn’t like Gleyber Torres snuck up on anyone who’s watched him play every day for the last two years. You can’t excel in New York City in a vacuum, and Torres has excelled from the moment he arrived at Yankee Stadium last year.
He started spraying line drives all across the American League from the moment his plane landed on April 22, 2018, he fielded both middle infield positions with flair and reliability. Then he hit 38 home runs this year, and if you want to simply credit all of that to a baseball dripping juice it seems fair to point out that no other middle infielder in the whole sport hit as many.
Of course, it always helps when you extend such elite performance to October, when more eyeballs are watching, when more people care, when the stakes are as high as they can be. And he was very good last year, hitting .308 in the Yankees’ four-game loss to the Red Sox in the ALDS.
But this year?
Look, a lot of Yankees through the years have gotten fat off the Twins, who have lost 13 straight games to them in the postseason. But it’s one thing to post numbers. It’s another to be so electric that it seems you’re wearing neon pinstripes. Torres hit .417 against the Twins, his OPS was 1.378, he had three hits and the home run that started the scoring in decisive Game 3. And defensively he turned in one gem after another, capped by his run-saving snare of an Eddie Rosario grounder in the fifth that he fielded in the shift with a slide, rose and threw a perfect strike to first to end the inning.
It is easy to throw superlatives and hyperbole in moments like these, especially as the Yankees were dousing each other in champagne. And those plaudits did come pouring in.
From Aaron Judge: “He’s the next Yankee great. I can’t even believe some of the stuff he does. Defensively making plays for us, coming up with a big hit whenever we need it.”
From Aaron Boone: “Gosh, he played so well in this series, and then today, I think, just continued to show the world just how good a player he is on both sides of the ball. I mean, big defensive plays, extra base hits, stole a base that helped lead to a nice insurance run.”
From Rocco Baldelli: “You want to get a little momentum going to try and turn it around and it seemed every time we tried he got in our way.”
Only, none of that seems at all like hyperbole, not if you watch the games, not if you see Torres play every day. If it means that October has allowed that narrative to grow, well, Torres joins a long line of players who have used the biggest stages to add an extra few watts to their star power.
Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams were terrific players in April and July their whole careers, but it was October that helped seal Jeter’s place among all-time Yankees greats and Williams among all-time Yankees favorites. Mickey Mantle’s 536 home runs would’ve delivered him to Cooperstown on their own; the fact that he added 18 more in the World Series simply added to the party. And it isn’t just baseball; Willis Reed had a Hall-of-Fame career, but his postseason moments — both his famous Game 7 appearance in 1970 and dozens of superior playoff efforts before and after that — sealed his legacy.
And we probably aren’t even conducting the ongoing debate about Eli Manning’s Hall of Fame chops if he hadn’t twice scaled extraordinary levels during the NFL’s Super Bowl tournaments of 2007 and 2011. Maybe it isn’t fair, but extra validation awaits the great athlete who takes it a step or two higher when it matters most. So far, early, that is Torres’ rare gift. And it is something to behold.
“I feel so good, happy,” Torres said early Tuesday morning. “I do the job, I help my team in every situation. I do defense. [Luis Severino] and all the bullpen do their job. We won the game. That is the most important, and now it’s time to celebrate.”
Even at a tender age — Torres won’t turn 23 until December — he understands the Yankees code. He knows that doing the job in the spring and summer is what gets you noticed and appreciated by the exacting Yankees masses. But it is what you do in the autumn that offers you a key to baseball’s most exclusive club. That prospect could jangle even the calmest set of nerves; it seems to light Torres on fire.
“Personally, I’m happy,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if I hit a home run or a double, that is an opportunity to help my team. I just put the ball in play. I know guys behind me do a really good job. So I’m just happy to get opportunity to be on base and try to score a run to help my team.”
Yes, he helps the team — the way gasoline helps a car run, the way a furnace keeps your house warm in the winter. He’s 22. He’s October tested. And the best is still to come. What a fun ride this will be for him over the next decade and change. And for us.