Unexpected heroics don’t change state of Yankees without Juan Soto

The third straight sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium started chanting “We want Soto,” and no one could blame them. The first 2 ¹/₂ games of this marquee matchup with the Dodgers hadn’t gone well, and his lineup replacement, Trent Grisham, was at bat and toting an .082 batting average.

Call it tough love. Call it inspiration. Call it whatever you want.

But darned if Grisham didn’t respond to the crowd’s rather rude rebuke, hooking a laser of a home run into the lower deck in right field to help salvage the final game in this confrontation of celebrated teams at Yankee Stadium.

Grisham’s surprise shot sent the Yankees to a 6-4 victory before a raucous crowd, and demonstrated that, yes, it is possible to win without Juan Soto, the Yankees’ beloved new superstar who sat out the series with his forearm inflammation issue.

Juan Soto in the dugout during the third inning as the Yankees play the Dodgers. Robert Sabo for NY Post

Nobody saw this one coming. Not me, not the fans and certainly not Dodgers ace Tyler Glasnow, the MLB strikeout leader who whiffed 12 Yankees on Sunday night.

Grisham’s stunning, sixth-inning, three-run homer off Glasnow not only turned the game, it won over the crowd. When he batted later, the chant was amended slightly, to “We Want Grisham.”

As they say around here, that’s baseball, Suzyn. That’s also the beauty of the game.

Game to game, only unpredictability is predictable. Though Yankees manager Aaron Boone does deserve a hat tip for having the guts to pencil a .083 hitter into the fifth spot in the batting order. (After an earlier whiff it had dropped to .082.)

Even with the surprise heroics, it’s fair to say the Yankees aren’t the same without Soto.

We suspected as much since we witnessed the “disaster” of that almost unspeakable 2023 season, when Soto was playing in relative obscurity for the underperforming Padres instead of here — where he belongs — for the underperforming 2023 Yankees. (And by the way, we use “disaster” because that’s what the team’s architect, Brian Cashman, calls it, but we still favor “debacle.”)

Anyway, the equally celebrated Dodgers helped expose one potential issue with these newly dominant Yankees in the series, which until now appeared immovable, impenetrable, and yes, dare we say it, almost inevitable.

The Yankees got some shocking heroics, but they do know they need that second superstar.

Single-handedly, Soto transformed a lineup that was average on good days last season, that in no way resembled what the Bronx Bombers are supposed to be. To be as great as they can be now, too, they need him. His teammates get it.

Just ask: Do they miss him?

“Only a fool would say no,” Alex Verdugo answered. “He’s a big part of our lineup. He’s a big part of how our offense rolls.

“The Soto hype’s always been there. [But] just playing with him is kind of validating,” Verdugo added. “His vision at the plate … his ability to hit to all fields with power … it’s eye-opening.”

The Yankees already suspected as much since they sent more than half a pitching rotation to San Diego to acquire him. But now they know for sure. Which is why club owner Hal Steinbrenner broke with tradition and offered to negotiate with him in-season. (Though there’s no evidence anything’s happening yet on that front, it was nice to hear.)

No, one superstar isn’t going to do it, not against the likes of a $300 million roster from LA with multiple superstars of its own. Aaron Judge certainly is trying to carry the club, and he couldn’t possibly be doing any more. He stroked three more hits, including his 24th home run, and his stats are now so far above everyone else’s it isn’t funny. He spotted Soto a month, and he even beats the new superstar.

The boisterous crowd, in a vocal mood, chanted “M-V-P” when Judge batted in the sixth, and he hit a ground single off third baseman Kiké Hernandez’s glove two batters before Grisham’s heroics.

Yankees outfielder Juan Soto (22) in the dugout during the fourth inning. Photo by Bill Kostroun. Yankees and LA Dodgers at Yankee Stadium. Bill Kostroun/New York Post

Soto is said by teammates to be anxious to play, unsurprising since he was one of those rare superstars who’s never absent. He played all 162 last year in the Padres’ debacle of a season, which turned out to be the biggest waste of money this side of the 2023 Mets.

It certainly hasn’t helped that the Yankees faced Glasnow plus the other apple of their winter’s eye, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, whose apparent determination to show the Yankees what they missed resulted in easily the most impressive performance of his young career Friday night. You just know Soto was relishing the thought he could win the matchup of 25-year-old phenoms. But while Soto is praying to play, the Yankees are doing right giving the forearm inflammation a few days to calm down.

Trent Grisham of the Yankees hits a three-run homer during the sixth inning on Sunday. Robert Sabo for NY Post

The Yankees appear to be targeting the next series at Kansas City for Soto’s return, and that works if he’s fully healed. “That’s the hope,” Boone said.

At 46-21 now, the Yankees certainly have the luxury of making Soto wait even if it meant missing the season’s biggest series. They did the right thing sitting him, even if it cost them a game or two and irked Soto, and even if it upset the fans.

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