Hicks turns jeers to cheers with 1st HR of '23

May 9th, 2023

NEW YORK -- dropped his bat as if a weight had finally been lifted.

Standing in the batter’s box, watching his long drive soar toward the seats in right field, a sense of relief washed over the Yankees’ left fielder. After hearing boos from the Yankee Stadium crowd following his first two unsuccessful at-bats of the night -- in what has become a common occurrence for the 33-year-old over the past two seasons -- Hicks made sure his third plate appearance gave them something to celebrate.

The No. 9 hitter in New York’s lineup, Hicks launched a two-run homer to the second deck, providing an exclamation mark of his own in the seventh inning of the Yankees’ 7-2 win over the A’s in Monday night’s series opener. It was the embattled veteran’s first home run of the season.

“[We’re] talking about a guy that hasn’t run from any of this,” said manager Aaron Boone. “He has been working his tail off behind the scenes, whether it’s extra hitting, extra work. He’s trying to make it happen. And none of this, I’m sure, has been easy. But he’s stood there and faced it every single day, and credit to him for continuing to grind and to see him get results now.

“Any time you’re scuffling or battling and you get some results or get a big hit, there’s usually a giant exhale that comes with that.”

As Hicks crossed home plate after his trot around the bases, he banged his chest twice and let out a roar, taking in the crowd cheering his name instead. Then he sauntered into the Yankees’ dugout, where his teammates greeted him with wide smiles and open arms.

“Everybody was excited for me to get one on the board there, especially in a game where we were hitting a lot of home runs,” Hicks said. “It was very exciting.”

In fact, all of the Yanks’ runs came via the long ball. Oswaldo Cabrera opened the scoring in the fifth with a two-run homer to left field. Gleyber Torres notched the game’s go-ahead blast with his solo shot in the sixth. And DJ LeMahieu padded the advantage with another two-run smash two batters later.

Those four home runs marked a season high for the Bronx Bombers, and three of them were hit off former Yanks left-hander JP Sears, who was part of the 2022 Trade Deadline package New York sent to Oakland in exchange for starter Frankie Montas and reliever Lou Trivino.

Nestor Cortes got through five innings unscathed, but he ran into trouble in the sixth, allowing Oakland to load the bases without recording an out and forcing Boone to take the ball out of his hands.

He watched from the dugout as Ron Marinaccio gave up an infield single and a walk to tie the game, before inducing an inning-ending double play to contain the damage. The Yankees’ home run parade picked up again after that.

Cortes was watching from the clubhouse when Hicks’ homer put the game out of reach, but he was just as aware of what the moment meant.

“He knows it, we all know it,” Cortes said. “He’s going through a tough patch, but he’s got to stay together and we’re staying with him. I think that’s what makes us special as a group, we’re pulling for each other every time no matter how down or how up you are.”

Hicks opened the season with a .143/.213/.161 slash line in his first 22 games, having been relegated to a non-everyday role just four seasons into a seven-year contract extension that had seemingly made him the Yankees’ center fielder of the future.

That position now belongs to Harrison Bader, who continued his strong return from injury with a leadoff triple in the fifth that set the stage for Cabrera’s game-opening homer. But that hasn’t stopped Hicks from trying to ensure that he still has a future in pinstripes.

“We know he’s a really good guy, he’s a hard worker, and when he hit that homer, all the dugout went crazy,” Cabrera said. “We were waiting for that.”

So was Hicks.

“You definitely want to get the first one out the way, that’s for sure,” Hicks said with a grin. “And to do it at home feels good, too.”