They say a bloop hit looks like a line drive in the box score. By that reasoning, hitting a home run against the 2019 Orioles counts the same as hitting one against any other team, no matter how easy Gleyber Torres has made it look against Baltimore.
Torres, who homered twice in the Yankees’ 7-5 victory over the Orioles on Wednesday, is hardly alone in his mastery of the team’s underwhelming pitching staff. The Orioles, who are 15-35 now after going 47-115 last year, recently set a record by allowing 100 home runs in the first 48 games of the season — nine games faster than the previous record-holder, the 2000 Kansas City Royals.
But if the rest of the league appears to be taking batting practice when it faces Baltimore, Torres makes it look like something even easier. Maybe T-ball.
By going 2 for 5 on Wednesday, the Yankees’ second-year infielder actually lowered his average against Baltimore this season to .465. He has 10 home runs against the Orioles, with 13 runs batted in and an outrageous slugging percentage of 1.233. His 12 games against Baltimore account for 57 percent of his extra-base hits and 50 percent of his R.B.I.
Among the many gems dug up by the numbers wizards of STATS: Torres is already tied for the most multi-homer games against a single opponent in a season (four), he has the most homers against a single opponent before June, and he is the first player to have 10 of his first 12 home runs come against one team.
“Anytime you have that short of a period and that much success against anyone, you shake your head at it a little bit,” Manager Aaron Boone said to reporters after Wednesday’s game. “It’s unusual and rare. He’s really locked in.”
Just to rub things in, Torres came into Thursday’s game as a pinch-hitter, was walked — it’s hard to blame them for that — and ended up coming around to score the go-ahead run in the Yankees’ 6-5 victory.
Boone is right that success like this is rare, but to beat up on the Orioles of recent vintage is nothing new for the Yankees. In his breakout 2017 season, Aaron Judge hit 11 of his 51 homers against the Orioles’ incompetent pitchers. To find a Yankees batter who did such a high percentage of his damage against one incompetent opponent, however, you have to go all the way back to 1936 and a rookie fresh off a Most Valuable Player Award in the Pacific Coast League: Joe DiMaggio.
DiMaggio made his major league debut against the St. Louis Browns — a team that would eventually move to Baltimore and rename itself the Orioles — on May 3, 1936. He went 3 for 6 that day and continued to wear out the Browns’ pitching staff all season. That was hardly unique: The 1936 Browns had a 6.24 earned run average, the third-worst mark of the modern era. The 2019 Orioles, by contrast, went into Wednesday’s game with a 5.74 E.R.A.
But just like Torres against this year’s Orioles, DiMaggio crushed the Browns like no one else. In 22 games against St. Louis, which finished 57-95 that year, DiMaggio batted .525 with 10 home runs, 27 R.B.I. and an absurd 52 hits.
Those numbers against the Browns were crucial to the immediate recognition of DiMaggio as a superstar. The rookie finished eighth in the Most Valuable Player Award voting that season, thanks to his .323 average, 29 home runs and 125 R.B.I. He slugged .576 and had 206 hits. If you remove the Browns from the equation, he hit .286 with 19 homers, 98 R.B.I. and 154 hits. Impressive to be sure, but certainly a season that would have been viewed with far less enthusiasm.
As big of a drop as DiMaggio had against non-Browns pitching, though, it was nothing compared to Torres’s drop-off when facing non-Orioles pitching. In 35 games against other teams, Torres is hitting a paltry .250 with 2 home runs and 13 R.B.I.
The scary thing for Baltimore is that Torres is most likely not done with them. The Yankees have seven more games scheduled against the Orioles this season, giving Torres the chance to match — or even break — a record set by one of DiMaggio’s teammates in 1936: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Lou Gehrig hit 14 of his major-league-leading 49 home runs in 23 games against the Cleveland Indians that year, a record against a single opponent that still stands.
Torres is doing his best to stay humble no matter how outlandish his mastery of the Orioles gets.
“I know I’ve hit very well during the series with Baltimore, but I don’t think about it too much,” he told reporters after Wednesday’s game. “I’m just trying to respect the game, be humble, respect the team and just play. I’m doing my job and having fun. I think when I enjoy the game, I hit pretty well.”
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