After spending the first nine years of his professional baseball career within the Indians organization, Gio Urshela was designated for assignment by Cleveland on May 4, 2018.
Over two years later, Urshela got his revenge.
Between a go-ahead grand slam at the plate and a game-saving double play at third base, Urshela was instrumental in the Yankees’ 10-9 series-clinching victory over the Indians.
“That was the one of the best games I’ve ever played in my life,” Urshela said.
As the Bombers celebrated at Progressive Field, moving on to face the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series, Urshela’s former club began to pack its bags for a long offseason.
That’s exactly what Urshela went through back in 2017, when the Yankees eliminated his Indians in the ALDS. This time, his contributions were instrumental in a Bombers victory.
“Gio was probably the star of the game, amongst the many big time performances,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said after the four hour and 50 minute marathon, the longest nine-inning game in Major League Baseball history.
Down three runs in the fourth inning, the Bombers loaded the bases, chasing right-hander Carlos Carrasco from the game in favor of lights-out reliever James Karinchak. That’s when Urshela stepped up to the plate.
New York’s rising star pounced on a full-count offering, sending a Karinchak fastball 432 feet and over the wall in left-center field. It was the first postseason grand slam by a Yankees third baseman in franchise history.
[I was] trying to get a pitch to hit,” Urshela said. “It went to a three-two count. Trying to put the ball in play, capitalize on anything in there. Thank God I got the homer.”
Urshela knew it was gone as soon as it left his bat, emphatically flipping his bat and pointing to the visitor’s dugout as his teammates erupted. As he began to round the bases, however, the 28-year-old blacked out in the moment.
“To be honest, I can’t remember [what happened next],’ Urshela said. “I was running. I just remember when I hit the ball and then when I was giving high fives to my teammates. But that was a great moment, what a great feeling.”
The grand slam gave New York a 5-4 lead. Wednesday night’s roller-coaster ball game, with lead changes galore, was far from over. Fast forward to the eighth frame, after Cleveland retook the lead, and the Indians were threatening for more.
With closer Aroldis Chapman on the mound, and runners on first and second base, Indians first baseman Carlos Santana ripped a 108.7 mph ground ball to the left side. It was the third-hardest hit ball of the game.
Urshela went horizontal to his left, flashing the leather by stabbing the hot shot before firing a strike to DJ LeMahieu at second base from the seat of his pants. LeMahieu finished off the 5-4-3 double play, ending the inning and holding the Yankees’ deficit at one run.
Chapman called Urshela’s web gem one of the key plays of the game.
“I think he saved the game there because if that ball goes by, at least one run comes in,” Chapman said through the Yankees’ interpreter. “An amazing play and I was just excited and happy about that defensive play that he was able to make.
Urshela wasn’t done.
In the top of the ninth, after a leadoff walk from Giancarlo Stanton, Urshela roped a base hit up the middle off Cleveland’s closer Brad Hand. It was an 0-2 slider well below the strike zone, the type of out pitch that often results in a ground ball and potentially a double play, but Urshela was able to stroke it into shallow center field and keep the rally alive.
Three batters later, catcher Gary Sánchez tied the game with a sacrifice fly. Then, Urshela came around to score the winning run on a two-out base hit up the box from LeMahieu.
Before the game, Urshela was asked about his return to Cleveland, in the ballpark where he first broke into the Majors five years before. He said he feels like a “different player” with a “different mentality.”
Over a pair of seasons in Cleveland, Urshela hit .225 (95-for-423) across 148 games. After a breakout season in 2019 with the Bombers, securing the starting third baseman job in Miguel Andújar’s absence due to injury, Urshela has transformed into one of the best at his position in the American League. Through his first two seasons, and 175 games, with the Yankees, he’s hitting .310 (184-for-593) while almost quadrupling his total of home runs and RBI.
“That was a great game of fighting,” Urshela said. “We got a couple delays, two [rain] delays, but the team always stayed positive, focused and everybody had the same goal. And we made it.”
Asked who received the Yankees’ championship belt on Wednesday night, a ceremonious symbol to recognize the Bombers’ player of the game, Urshela giggled and smiled.
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