HOUSTON – It was a few hours before the Yankees were due to assemble on the third-base line for introductions at Minute Maid Park, adrenaline pumping underneath their gray uniforms as they anticipated the first pitch of this American League Championship Series. Gleyber Torres felt the urge to make an announcement.
“He came up to me before the game and said, ‘I am going to get that belt tonight,’” Aaron Judge said. “I said, ‘We’ll see about that.’ I knew he was going to have a good game, but he proved it tonight.”
Torres had been the hero in the clinching victory that stamped their ticket to Houston, earning the metallic championship belt that has circulated among the roster throughout this season. The standout infielder again claimed custody of the prize, producing a historic five-RBI performance in New York’s 7-0 Game 1 victory over the Astros on Saturday night.
“It’s so great to play with the Yankees, and I get the opportunity to play every day,” said Torres, whose three hits included a sixth-inning homer off losing pitcher Zack Greinke. “For me, I'm just being focused. I just try to help and make some opportunities to try to help my team.”
On a roster stocked with some of baseball’s biggest stars, Torres is continuing to shine brightest under the October spotlight. Promoted to the No. 3 spot in the lineup for the ALCS opener, the 22-year-old’s memorable evening supported a magnificent six-inning, one-hit effort from starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Giancarlo Stanton and Gio Urshela also homered as the Bombers accomplished what they were unable to during their ALCS visits to Houston two years ago -- stun and silence a frenzied, orange-towel-waving crowd of 43,311, allowing the visitors to board their buses back to the hotel while clutching a victory.
“I feel like we can win anywhere,” Judge said. “I never felt a monkey on our back or felt like we couldn’t do something, especially with the team we’ve got. This is a special ballclub. Anybody we play, anywhere we go, we’re ready to go.”
The Yankees are running short of superlatives to describe Torres, whom Judge proclaimed to be “the next great Yankee” following their AL Division Series sweep of the Twins. Manager Aaron Boone used “smart and confident” to describe the two-time All-Star, who landed in pinstripes thanks to a five-player July 2016 swap that briefly loaned closer Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs.
“He just plays the game with a free and easy way, and with a confidence about his game,” Boone said. “The intelligence part is big because it's allowed him to continue to grow and get better at all of the little things. He comes into the game prepared. He likes playing in these situations, and he's confident in his ability to produce. That leads to a dangerous player.”
The first Yankee to record five RBIs in a postseason game since Robinson Canó in Game 1 of the 2011 ALDS, Torres (22 years, 303 days old) is the third-youngest player overall to achieve the feat, behind Andruw Jones (19 years old, 180 days) and Addison Russell (22, 283).
“Nothing really surprises me,” Brett Gardner said. “His ability is off the charts. I feel like he's going to continue to get better, which is kind of scary for opposing pitchers, I guess. It's exciting if you're a Yankees fan. I think he's so talented. He has such a knack for being able to put the bat on the baseball and make hard contact.”
Tanaka and Greinke matched zeros over the first three frames before Torres drove home the ALCS’ first run with a fourth-inning double that rolled toward the bullpen gates in left-center field.
That lead was extended in the sixth inning, when Torres connected for his second postseason homer, a 343-foot drive that landed in the Crawford Boxes in left field. Torres joined Mickey Mantle as the only players in Yankees history to slug homers in multiple postseason games prior to their 23rd birthday.
“It doesn't seem like any moment is big for him,” DJ LeMahieu said. “Game on the line, he's calm, relaxed, loose. He's just an incredible player.”
As Torres trotted past third base, he caught the attention of his teammates in the dugout, offering a grin while gesturing along his belt line.
Stanton followed later that inning with a line drive to the right-field bullpen, his second career postseason blast. That was enough support for Tanaka, who broke a tie with Sandy Koufax to become the first pitcher to allow two or fewer runs in each of his first seven postseason starts.
Facing Ryan Pressly in the seventh, the Yankees collected four two-out hits, the last of which was Torres’ two-run flare to center field. Torres put the finishing touches on his memorable evening by adding a run-scoring groundout in the ninth inning, making him the youngest player to record at least five RBIs in an LCS game.
“He’s a hot hitter right now,” Pressly said. “Every time he hits the ball, he seems to find a hole.”
The victory places the Yanks in solid position, while whetting their appetite for more. In postseason history, Game 1 winners in all best-of-seven series have gone on to take the series 112 of 176 times (64%). In all series with the current 2-3-2 format, those winning Game 1 on the road have gone on to take the series 36 of 64 times (56%).
“Tonight is played already,” Torres said. “We won, we celebrated, but we’ll focus on tomorrow. It’s the same for tomorrow -- try to attack early, try to score some runs and try to win.”