It’s fair to say that anyone with the talent to get called up to the major leagues has the right to claim they’re “good at baseball.” But what is it that makes an MLB hitter truly world-class? Is it the ability to battle through pain and adversity to still deliver what your team needs from you? Is it imposing your will on pitches that are executed perfectly, and should by all accounts be nearly impossible to send over the outfield wall? Is it having such an incredible game that even the losers have to marvel at your success? Well, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. did all those things last night, so what adjective is even left to describe the 23-year-old’s talents? Maybe just “supreme.”
The Blue Jays were in New York on Wednesday night for the third in a four-game series that they had split with the Yankees up to this point, and Vlad carried his team to victory in as single-handedly a way as a democratic sport like baseball allows. His stat line alone certainly makes a tremendous impression—4-for-4 with a double and three home runs—but the details of his evening do so much to magnify the achievement.
If you’ll forgive me for saying so, the first dinger, while still fantastic, was the least impressive, setting a bar that Guerrero would continually raise through the remainder of the innings. After Gerrit Cole got the first two outs of the game, Vlad took a ball and then turned on a mistake of a slider right out in the middle of the plate. It was not immediately evident that this one traveled beyond Aaron Hicks in center field, but the history books will mark it down as a 416-foot dinger.
It got scary in a bad way for Vladdy before he once again got scary in a good way. In the second inning, a throw by Bo Bichette after a grounder by Hicks forced Guerrero into an awkward position to try and get the out, sticking his right hand out on the first-base foul line as he tried to maintain his balance while leaning as far as he could with his foot on the bag. That ungloved hand, unfortunately, was right in Hicks’s running path, and Vlad got spiked open. But though it initially looked like the bleeding might end his night, some tape from the training staff kept him from exiting.
Vlad needed a pair of stiches after the game, but he told reporters, “It’s not that bad.”
It’s hard to doubt him, because in the very next inning, Vlad stepped into the box and smashed a no-doubter. Cole didn’t give him any off-speed stuff this time, and on a 1-1 count the Yanks pitcher delivered a fastball inside that could have made it 2-1. But Guerrero used his muscles to send it on a trip to the bullpen, an official 427 feet for a 3-0 Blue Jays lead.
The overhead shot does a great job showing how badly he should have been jammed.
And when Guerrero came up again in the sixth, he produced a double out of an 0-2 count that left a helpless Cole with nothing to do but show his respect.
“Did you see his night?” Cole said when asked about his little gesture. “If you had a cap, you’d tip it too.”
And still there was more! In the top of the eighth, with the Jays leading just 4-3, Vlad notched the trifecta with his third tater of the night, on the first pitch he saw from Jonathan Loáisiga. This, again, was speedy and inside, but Guerrero had no problem trebucheting it back to the left field seats 443 feet away.
After this almost perfect game—really, Vlad was only two bases away from doing every single thing he could have possibly done to help his team win—the postgame quotes blurred the line between friend and foe. Far beyond Cole and his hat tip, the Yankees couldn’t help themselves admiring the man who made them lose.
“Otherworldly hitting,” manager Aaron Boone said. “One of the best hitters in the world.”
“I wish it was against somebody else, so I could’ve watched it on TV and didn’t see it live,” added Aaron Judge.
The Yanks have to face the Blue Jays 16 more times throughout the rest of the season. I wonder how many home runs it will take for these grudging smiles to become something more like infuriated grimaces.