Velazquez's 'dream' coming true with Yanks

Bronx native goes 2-for-4, drives in 2, makes stellar game-ending play

August 19th, 2021

NEW YORK -- used to spend his free cash to pass through Yankee Stadium's gates, imagining the lush grass under his toes. As the Bronx native stood in the center of the home clubhouse and prepared to speak to his teammates, his uniform caked with dirt from a sensational game-ending play, reality surpassed the fantasy.

Velazquez ranged into the hole, slid as the ball got past diving third baseman Rougned Odor, then hurried to his feet and fired a one-hop strike across the infield, retiring Kevin Plawecki and sealing the Yankees' 5-2 victory over the Red Sox on Wednesday. Having completed a three-game sweep that extended the Bombers' winning streak to six games, Velazquez proudly sported a golden championship belt, indicative of the team's most valuable contributor.

"It's what you dream about," Velazquez said. "You come here and you want to be a part of something -- not only doing good on the field, but earning the respect of the guys in the locker room."

Ten games in pinstripes have cemented Velazquez's arrival as one of the feel-good stories of this roller coaster Yankees season, currently riding a huge upswing. The club has won 18 of 23 games to move a season-high 17 games over .500 (69-52), surpassing Boston (69-54) and Oakland (68-53) for the first American League Wild Card spot.

"We had some tough games against them; really competitive games in a lot of cases," manager Aaron Boone said of the Red Sox. "At times, we weren't playing our best baseball. I feel like we're a better and different team now. Now it's on to the next one, and we've got an important one tomorrow."

Anthony Rizzo gloved Velazquez's game-ending throw -- upheld after two minutes and 20 seconds of review that littered both teams around the field in suspense -- after Aroldis Chapman stumbled in his return from the injured list, surrendering a long Hunter Renfroe homer. Lucas Luetge induced Plawecki, the potential tying run, to hit a grounder that got past Odor but not Velazquez.

"That was such a big play for both sides," Rizzo said. "You just see the replay over and over, keep trying to convince yourself that the call is right. It was definitely close. … If that ball gets by me, the tying run is on second base, so I just played it into as long a hop as I could. It was a great play all around."

Until that moment, the evening had seemed stress-free for Boone, thanks mostly to Andrew Heaney. Six days prior, the left-hander stalked into an interview room resting over what had once been an Iowa cornfield, shouldering his disappointment at the Field of Dreams Game -- specifically, that he had not given the Yankees a chance to win.

"I just hadn't pitched really well, and that's what I was brought here to do," said Heaney, who was acquired from the Angels in on July 20.

Vowing to get it right the next time, Heaney followed through, producing seven terrific innings of one-run ball. Heaney had struggled with the long ball through his first three starts in a Yankees uniform, thumped for eight homers among 15 runs and 15 hits in a symmetrical 15 innings.

Xander Bogaerts launched a first-inning homer, but Heaney settled in, holding Boston to just one other hit in a 108-pitch effort. Heaney walked two and struck out four, then handed off to Zack Britton for a clean eighth.

"It's a really good feeling," Heaney said. "I did my job tonight to give us a chance to win. With this lineup that we have on this team, you've just got to give those guys a chance, because they're going to put up runs."

New York batted around for four runs in the second inning, knocking out starter Nick Pivetta after recording only five outs. Brett Gardner lifted a sacrifice fly, Velazquez stroked a run-scoring hit and Rizzo connected for a two-run single in his return from the COVID-19 injured list.

Velazquez singled home another run in the eighth, chasing home Gary Sánchez after a double. His personal cheering section roared; a 27-year-old product of the Morris Park neighborhood of the Bronx, Velazquez attended Fordham Prep and has maintained ties to the community.

"After the game, him saying a couple of words about him growing up here and dreaming of this, how much better it is in person," Rizzo said. "It's special stuff."

Even now, with an assigned Yankees locker and uniform No. 71 hanging inside, Velazquez is opting to crash with his parents about 25 minutes from the Stadium rather than a hotel room.

"It's closer than staying in Manhattan," Velazquez said. "Cheaper, too."