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Best game of Gio's life, and at a perfect time

@BryanHoch
October 1, 2020

The most coveted accessory within the Yankees’ traveling party is an oversized blue leather belt, emblazoned with a trio of golden plates that identify its owner as the ‘player of the game.’ For years, its existence has frequently spurred in-game lobbying throughout the team’s dugout. When the Yankees held their

The most coveted accessory within the Yankees’ traveling party is an oversized blue leather belt, emblazoned with a trio of golden plates that identify its owner as the ‘player of the game.’ For years, its existence has frequently spurred in-game lobbying throughout the team’s dugout.

When the Yankees held their presentation ceremony after Wednesday’s Game 2 of the American League Wild Card Series, there was unanimous agreement on who deserved it most: Gio Urshela, who slugged a grand slam and turned a game-saving double play in the club’s 10-9 victory over the Indians.

“That was one of the best games I ever played in my life,” Urshela said.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Sept. 29 NYY 12, CLE 3 Watch
Gm 2 Sept. 30 NYY 10, CLE 9 Watch

Without Urshela’s contributions, there is a good chance that the Yankees would not be packing their bags for a Southern California date with the Rays in the AL Division Series, which will begin on Monday in San Diego.

“Gio was probably the star of the game, among many big-time performances,” manager Aaron Boone said.

The play that closer Aroldis Chapman said “saved the game” for the Yankees came in the eighth inning, after Cleveland took a 9-8 lead on Cesar Hernandez’s run-scoring single. Chapman fanned José Ramírez for the first out, but Carlos Santana rapped a hard grounder toward left field.

Urshela reacted instantly, diving to his left to smother the ball and firing a strike to second baseman DJ LeMahieu from the seat of his pants, starting an inning-ending double play. Had the ball gotten by Urshela, at least one more run would have scored.

9 wild moments from Yanks' thrilling clincher

“It was one of the key plays of the game,” Chapman said through a translator. “It’s no secret. We all know what Gio is capable of. It was an amazing play.”

A former Indian who manned third base in the 2017 ALDS, Urshela said that he holds fond memories of his time with Cleveland, even maintaining his connection during the coronavirus shutdown by joining Tribe shortstop Francisco Lindor for long-distance bike rides five days a week in their Orlando, Fla., neighborhood.

Urshela, who turns 29 later this month, has transformed into a more complete player than the one who debuted with the Indians. He credits that to the regular playing time the Yankees issued after his callup last year, when he replaced injured third baseman Miguel Andújar early in the season.

“I feel quite different now,” Urshela said. “Different player, different mentality. But the ball is still the same.”

Trailing by three runs entering the fourth inning, the Yankees struck back, knocking starter Carlos Carrasco from the game. Aaron Hicks launched a fly ball to center field that Delino DeShields misplayed into a triple. Luke Voit and Giancarlo Stanton followed with walks, chasing Carrasco.

In came reliever James Karinchak, an eccentric fireballer who wears the uniform No. 99 and sports a similar Veg-O-Matic haircut to Charlie Sheen’s Rick Vaughn character from the "Major League" movies.

Urshela didn’t flinch at the wannabe ‘Wild Thing,’ barreling a full-count 96.2 mph fastball into the left-field bleachers as the Yanks grabbed their first lead of the night.

“I was trying to get a pitch to hit,” Urshela said. “I worked it to a 3-2 count. I tried to put the ball in play, trying to get a sacrifice fly. Thank God I got the homer.”

It was the first postseason grand slam ever hit by a Yankees third baseman. Urshela joined Gil McDougald (1951) and Tino Martinez (1998) as the only Yankees to hit a go-ahead grand slam in a postseason contest. Urshela also added a ninth-inning single that helped set up the winning rally.

“Any time that I see my name in the lineup, that’s what I try to do,” Urshela said. “I try to do my best, try to help my team and try to win the game.”

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.