'Grinding it out,' Gallo snaps funk with big HR

July 7th, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- Yankees manager Aaron Boone could see it.

As outfielder Joey Gallo worked his way through a 1-for-33 stretch that extended from June 18 through his first at-bat Wednesday night, Boone saw the hurt that grew with every new out made. He saw what he called that “night in, night out kind of feeling” that comes with the pressures of grinding through a skid in a market that is often more unforgiving than any other.

So to say that Gallo needed the big swing he provided in a 16-0 blowout win over the Pirates at PNC Park would be a major understatement.

Stepping to the plate in the sixth inning, Gallo had already reached base on a walk. In the 13-game stretch of offensive toil, he’d drawn six walks. But that’s not the main reason why the Bombers traded for Gallo at the Deadline last season.

They brought him into the fold to mash.

Gallo provided a reminder of that strength, as he crushed a four-seam fastball from Pirates starter Mitch Keller for a home run, going back-to-back with Josh Donaldson. The 6-foot-5 lefty slugger sent the ball a Statcast-projected 426 feet out to right-center field, a foot shy of his longest of the season on June 9 in Minnesota.

“I feel like it’s been a week or so, a couple of weeks since I’ve driven a ball like that, so it felt good in a big spot,” Gallo told MLB.com after the game. “It was still a close game at the time. It just felt good to be able to help the team win a little bit.”

The last time Gallo was in Pittsburgh, he reached the Allegheny River on a bounce with a 443-foot blast -- also to right-center field. But this time, he wasn’t worried about splashing one.

“I was just praying it went over the fence,” Gallo said. “I knew I hit it good, but you just never know.”

It was one of six homers the Yankees hit as they went from scoreless through four innings to a lopsided result, preventing an underdog sweep by the Pirates at PNC Park. The Bombers remain one of only three teams in baseball to not be swept in a series.

But there was a much louder sound -- both off the bat and in the collective exhale of New York’s dugout -- from Gallo’s dinger.

“Games like this help guys get rolling,” said Aaron Judge, whose 30th homer of the season came on a grand slam in the eighth inning. “You have a couple of good at-bats, you put a couple of balls in the gap and all of a sudden, guys just take off for a week or two or a month, or maybe even for the rest of the season.”

The offensive profile of Gallo lends itself to tough stretches. A high batting average has never been his calling card; his best mark came in 2019, when he posted a .253 average while playing only 70 games. Last season, he paced the Majors in strikeouts with 213 in 498 at-bats, though he also led the American League in walks (111). In his career, a striking 58% of his hits have gone for extra bases, and 37.5% have been homers.

The Yankees are obviously willing to trade some swing and miss for the immense power Gallo provides, but it hurts when it comes in large batches at a time. He struck out 19 times in his 1-for-33 stretch, and he continued to hear it from Yankees fans, including the many who made the trip to PNC Park on Wednesday, when he struck out in the second inning.

“I think he gets some of that too much at times, quite frankly,” Boone said, “but I definitely think coming over here, it was a difficult adjustment for him. It’s something that he’s worked very hard to overcome.”

Boone and the Yankees are hopeful that Gallo will be able to take these “small successes” and turn them into “longer-term success.” And even through the struggles, the Yankees have always been on his side.

“He’s grinding it out. He’s got the support of all of us, including his teammates,” Yankees chairman Hal Steinbrenner said of Gallo on Wednesday afternoon. “It’s been difficult for him, there’s no doubt about it, but there’s a lot of baseball to be had this season. So we’re going to see, and I still expect great things out of him.”