NEW YORK -- Didi Gregorius arrived in The Bronx three years ago facing the daunting challenge of replacing Derek Jeter as the Yankees' starting shortstop. When it comes to hitting the ball out of the yard, he has now equaled The Captain's best single-season performance.Gregorius homered for the third straight
NEW YORK -- Didi Gregorius arrived in The Bronx three years ago facing the daunting challenge of replacing Derek Jeter as the Yankees' starting shortstop. When it comes to hitting the ball out of the yard, he has now equaled The Captain's best single-season performance.
Gregorius homered for the third straight game in the Yankees' 6-4 loss to the Orioles on Sunday afternoon and now has 24 blasts, matching Jeter's 1999 record for the most homers hit by a shortstop in franchise history.
"I'm just trying to play the game," Gregorius said. "I'm not worried about the careers or something that's out there, the records. I'm just trying to play the game and be the best player out there, and try to help my team. I don't really worry about the stats. I just play the game."
Earlier this month, Gregorius became the first Yankees shortstop to hit 20 or more homers in back-to-back seasons, doing so despite missing most of the first month with a right shoulder injury. In his last 13 games, Gregorius is hitting .340 (16-for-47) with five homers and 19 RBIs.
"Didi's had a great year," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's had a great month of September as well. He's playing at an extremely high level. It's a pretty big name to tie."
While Gregorius said that he is "just trying to be the same guy since the day I got here," he chuckled when asked to imagine how many homers he might have hit if he had been healthy for all of April, and said that he does sometimes have to do a double-take at his growing total.
"Yeah, it kind of does [surprise me]," Gregorius said. "Mostly, I'm trying to hit line drives all over the place. If I hit it, I hit it, but it's not like I'm going to go out there and try to hit home runs."
In addition to the home run mark, Gregorius had 19 RBIs against the Orioles this season; no Yankees shortstop since 1950 has had more RBIs against a single opponent -- though Jeter had 19 in 1998 against the Rangers and 19 against the Orioles in 2004.
Sunday marked Gregorius 31st turn in the cleanup spot this season, and while that wasn't the Yankees' initial plan, Girardi said it has been working.
"He's just been consistent there," Girardi said. "It really splits up our left-handers, which makes it harder to navigate through our lineup because the guys that are around him hit left-handers really well. Left-handers don't seem to bother Didi. It's just worked out well."
Though the Yankees missed an opportunity to make up ground on the Red Sox on Sunday, Gregorius said that their focus remains on the American League East race and not the Twins, who trail the Yankees by four games for the top AL Wild Card spot as they prepare to open a three-game series in New York on Monday.
"We just worry about our division," Gregorius said. "We're trying to get to Boston. That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to play our best games. The Twins are playing other teams too, and they're going to come here. We've got to compete. We're both in the Wild Card, so we'll try to get out of it."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.