NEW YORK -- Joey Gallo turned his head skyward and watched the arc of the ball as it left his bat and sailed into the horizon of the dark, starless night. It went up, and up, and up, and when it finally came down, it landed in the first row of the right-field bleachers at Yankee Stadium -- just past the outstretched glove of the Mariners’ Mitch Haniger.
With two outs and two runners on in the bottom of the seventh inning Thursday, the Yankee Stadium crowd erupted in a chant for the slugger, their prized Trade Deadline acquisition who had yet to have the signature moment to start his career in pinstripes. They were willing him to deliver. Gallo gleefully obliged.
Behind Gallo’s go-ahead three-run homer -- his first with the team -- the Yankees (59-49) claimed a 5-3 victory in a high-stakes series opener against the Mariners, who entered the four-game weekend set only one game behind New York in the American League Wild Card race, and they moved to a season-high 10 games over the .500 mark.
“I was just hoping that it would stay fair, and I was hoping that it would get out,” Gallo said. “And once I saw it get out, I was overcome with emotion a little bit. It was such a big at-bat in a big moment. You could feel that it could be a game-changing at-bat. I was happy I was able to come through and help the team win.”
It wasn’t the typical short-porch homer people expected from Gallo at Yankee Stadium. In fact, at a launch angle of 48 degrees, the Statcast-projected 331-foot blast was the highest home run of the season for the Yankees, and it tied for the club’s highest homer since Statcast began tracking in 2015. If that wasn’t enough, it was also the highest of Gallo's seven-year big league career.
The Yankees were watching closely from the dugout, keeping their eyes peeled in as much earnest anticipation as their fans. Manager Aaron Boone even had to climb up the top steps onto the playing field in order to track the ball’s trajectory.
“I definitely thought it had a chance,” Boone said. “I knew it was right down the line, which is a good thing. Obviously it was so high -- you don’t see very many go that high. I actually got up out of the dugout because I felt like it was going to go. And it just kept going. [He] hit it in the perfect spot.”
Gallo rounded the bases to elated cheers from the Yankees fans in attendance, then -- at their behest -- he made his way back out of the dugout for a curtain call. It was as surreal a moment as they come for the 27-year-old, who grew up a Yankees fan himself, considered Derek Jeter his idol and wears the pinstriped No. 13 as Alex Rodriguez did before him.
“The 10-year-old me would be crying right now and not believing what’s going on,” Gallo said. “It’s really crazy. It’s something that I have to like take a step back from and be like, ‘I’m at Yankee Stadium, getting a curtain call from Yankees fans.’ It’s crazy to me. It’s just an honor to play for this organization and help them win.”
The game-winning home run was part of a breakthrough, season-high-tying 3-for-4 night at the plate for Gallo, who also notched two doubles and two runs scored. He had gone 2-for-23 (both doubles) in six games to begin his Yankees career before Thursday. With each of his first five Yankees hits going for extra bases, Gallo became just the fourth Yankees player in the last 20 seasons to accomplish the feat, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Despite those early struggles, Boone insisted that it was only “a matter of time” before Gallo found his footing.
“The Trade Deadline is a whirlwind. It’s not just the baseball part of it, but it’s meeting new people, it’s moving, it’s so many things that go into it,” Boone said. “So you want to get settled, get comfortable. There’s no question having some results and getting a huge hit in a victory, [it] does allow you to exhale a little bit. He should feel pretty good when you hit a game winner here, especially with what we’re going through right now as a team.”
With starting pitchers Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery on the COVID-19 injured list -- and catcher Gary Sánchez joining them Thursday -- the Yankees have needed an all-hands-on-deck approach. Still, Gallo said he was receiving the attention and support that he needed, and he expressed his gratitude by helping the Yanks move to 6-1 since the Deadline.
“The clubhouse and my teammates and coaches, they’ve been outstanding,” Gallo said. “I really could not ask for a better team to come play for. I feel like I’ve been here for years already [with] the way they trust me and believe in me. So it’s been nice, and I think that’s what gives me the confidence. I know I didn’t have a great first week, but they’re going to put me out there and let me keep playing, so I have to appreciate that.”
There was also one particular aspect of his new home that Gallo appreciated on Thursday night -- that short porch in right field.
“I had a couple friends from Texas text me and say, ‘Hey, that’s an F9 in Texas, that’s an out,’” Gallo said, “and I was like, ‘Yeah, but we’re not in Texas anymore.’”
The Yankees couldn’t be happier about that.