With one mighty swing, Greg Bird kept the Yankees’ season alive — while reminding everyone of the superstar potential he possesses when healthy.
In a stunning development, Bird turned on a 95-mph inside fastball from Andrew Miller and drilled it into the second deck in right field leading off the seventh inning — his 396-foot shot serving as the only run in the Bombers’ 1-0 victory over the Indians in Game 3 of the ALDS on Sunday at the Stadium.
The normally mild-mannered Bird watched the ball sail into the Bronx night along with 48,614 others — and was fired up as he rounded the bases and received congratulations from his teammates in the dugout.
“Let’s go!” yelled Bird, who has been through so much this season, missing 103 games and undergoing right ankle surgery in mid-July.
“Plain and simple, I’m not ready to be done playing, and I don’t think the rest of the team is,” Bird said.
Who saw this coming even a month ago?
Greg Bird reacts after hitting a solo shot home run.
“I wouldn’t have bet on it,” Joe Girardi admitted before the postseason began.
He wasn’t the only one — with one Yankee insider questioning Bird’s desire to return to the field.
As for Bird himself?
“I bet on it,” the 24-year-old first baseman, who missed all of last season, too, due to a shoulder injury, replied emphatically. “I bet on myself. I got a little taste in 2015 (when I first got called up), and I’ve wanted nothing more than to be back.
“Going through the shoulder and ankle injuries was tough, but like I said, I bet on myself, and I knew I could come back and be part of it.”
Yankees vs. Indians 2017 American League Division Series
Bird became just the second lefty to hit a homer off Miller — whom the Indians acquired from the Yankees for Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield at the 2016 trading deadline — this season, joining likely NL Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger.
“I have so much respect for him on and off the field,” Bird said of Miller, his ex-teammate. “There’s no one like him. I was just trying to keep things simple. See it and hit it. It’s what my mom tells me all the time.”
Was there any thought of pinch-hitting for the lefty-batting Bird in that spot? After all, Girardi has done so before.
“No,” the manager said. “As I’ve said about Greg Bird, he’s built for our ballpark. I really do. And the thing about Miller is his splits are basically identical (.164 lefties vs. .136 righties in the regular season). So I chose to go with him. It’s really good to have him back healthy. It sure is.”
In 33 games since returning from the disabled list (including playoffs), Bird is slashing .260/.339/.600 with 10 homers and 29 RBI — looking like the player he was in the spring.
Homegrown youngsters Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino have gotten most of the headlines all season, but this time it was Bird’s chance to shine.
The Yankees need this type of production from Bird, both now and in the future.
Brian Cashman has never wavered in his belief that the organization’s fifth-round pick in the 2011 draft could have this type of impact.
And there was Bird, on Sunday, putting his stamp on October, hitting his second homer in as many games, blasting a bomb off arguably the best lefty reliever in baseball and then entering a state of bliss.
“I was really excited,” Bird said. “I’m not going to lie. Since I started playing baseball and really any sport, it’s about winning. I enjoy the hell out of it, I’ll be honest, but it’s about winning. That’s how I am, and that’s how the guys in (our clubhouse) are. So nothing’s really changed.
“We’ve got to win, and that’s what our plan is.”