NEW YORK -- Chase Headley seemed to silence any chatter about whether he belongs in pinstripes after two clutch at-bats made the difference in the Yankees' 5-4 walk-off win over the Rays on Saturday.Headley, who didn't start against Tampa Bay left-hander Blake Snell, pinch-hit in the sixth inning against righty
NEW YORK -- Chase Headley seemed to silence any chatter about whether he belongs in pinstripes after two clutch at-bats made the difference in the Yankees' 5-4 walk-off win over the Rays on Saturday.
Headley, who didn't start against Tampa Bay left-hander Blake Snell, pinch-hit in the sixth inning against righty Sergio Romo, and he cracked a two-run opposite-field homer to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead. Then, Headley battled back from behind in the count, 0-2, to draw a leadoff walk in the ninth, which led to the team's game-winning run on Brett Gardner's single.
"Just an outstanding day for Chase," said manager Joe Girardi, making sure not to undermine the walk in comparison to the home run. "He comes in and puts us ahead, continues to get on base at a very high rate."
The home run had an exit velocity of 98.6 mph and traveled a projected 377 feet, according to Statcast™. It was Headley's fifth homer of the season, and his first opposite-field one since joining the Yankees in 2014.
After Headley went 14-for-85 (.165) in May, it appeared as though it was only a matter of time before the Yankees would replace him in their lineup. The team's top prospect Gleyber Torres was raw, but Headley was really slumping.
Girardi gave Headley two days off at the end of May to work on fixing his swing, and the veteran took advantage of it. He shortened his load, which featured a lot of pre-swing movement, with the hope that it would keep his head from moving too much as he watched the incoming pitch, and thus help him swing at better pitches.
The positive results came gradually instead of all at once, so it was hard to see the strides he was making. But he was improving, batting .296/.410/.383 in June.
Still, Headley's job never seemed safe, even after Torres went down with a season-ending injury in the middle of June. Sure, the Yankees had more pressing matters to address via the trade market, specifically at first base and in the bullpen, but if the right deal to upgrade over Headley presented itself, it seemed they would make the move.
After the Yankees acquired Todd Frazier, Headley approached Girardi and offered to switch to first base if that's what the manager felt was best for the team.
"He embraced it," said Girardi of Headley moving to first. "He would do whatever it took to put us in the best situation to win. I really believe that's one of the reasons he's thriving now."
Headley is batting .429/.500/.643 in nine games since switching to first base, and in 24 games in July, he's slashing .325/.378/.458.
However, he said, he hasn't changed much during his hot streak.
"You're always working on your swing," Headley said. "There's always something that you have in mind that you're trying to do a little bit better, but it's not a major adjustment most of the time.
"Sometimes, it just starts to click."
Matthew Martell is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.