NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 29: Greg Bird #33 of the New York Yankees hits a home run against the Boston Red Sox in the fourth inning during their game at Yankee Stadium on June 29, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
The Yankees’ starting first baseman, whose season has been riddled with injuries and inconsistency at the plate, recorded his second career multi-home run game in the team’s 8-1 win over the Red Sox on Friday in the Bronx. And Bird’s refreshing performance happened to arrive on the same day the Yankees called upon Drury to leave Triple-A SWB for a utility role with the big league club.
Although Bird entered the game with only one hit against left-handers in 15 at-bats this year, his splits against Boston’s southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez (3-for-9 with a home run) warranted a start. In the fourth inning, Bird reaffirmed that decision by taking a Rodriguez fastball to the left field seats — his first opposite-field homer since 2015, according to the YES Network’s research department.
Then, in the eighth, Bird took advantage of the short porch in right field with a second solo-blast off right-handed reliever Justin Haley.
“We’re just playing our game. That’s the best part about this team,” Bird told YES after the game. “We come out, we fight every day, and we have fun doing it. So, whatever you want to call it, we got the win and that’s all we needed.
“You just keep going, that’s the biggest thing. You just keep going, keep your head up and keep going and keep playing. It’s baseball, it’s life. So, just keep rolling with it.”
Drury’s minor league numbers were proof of his worthiness to return to the majors. But the timing was also convenient for the Yankees, as two more Red Sox lefties — Chris Sale and David Price — are scheduled to pitch this weekend. And in these games, Drury will likely take over first base duties, leaving Bird on the bench due to some unfavorable matchups.
Despite the Yankees’ overwhelming success (major-league best .671 winning percentage), the team has yet to receive sufficient production from first basemen. Between first base options Bird, Neil Walker, and Tyler Austin, they’ve combined for a .202 average and .279 on-base percentage, which is ranked second-worst in the American League. The team can only hope Drury’s Triple-A success carries over immediately.
Nevertheless, Bird’s latest plate appearances suggest he’s closer to breaking out of his lingering dry spell. Perhaps his .204 batting average (93 at-bats in 29 games) can distance itself from the wretched Mendoza Line.
And if this does occur, the Yankees will soon be rewarded for their patience with Bird, who’s still 25-years-young.
“I feel like the one thing that he always does is control the strike zone. Controls the zone, especially east and west,” manager Aaron Boone told YES. “He’s real disciplined at laying off tough pitches. I feel like that’s been good all along. Those pitches tonight that he hit out of the ballpark that he really impacted, I feel like when he’s gotten those pitches over the last couple of weeks, it’s been a hard grounder or a fly ball that he hasn’t really impacted.
“Tonight, he jumped on it the other way to left field. That’s a really encouraging one. That’s not easy in this ballpark to do. Rode it out of here with some ease and then added one. So, excited for him and just excited to see him get some significant results.”
Bird didn’t make any changes to his approach on Friday. But he does know one of the keys to his success.
“I think for me, just finding my balance, always,” Bird told YES. “My balance is key. So, whatever I’ve got to do to find that.”