Isiah Kiner-Falefa might not have been the big-name shortstop that Yankees fans did last winter. But he could be exactly the shortstop that the Yankees need to run that World Series.
While he doesn’t have the power of Carlos Correa or Corey Seeger, Kiner-Falefa has been an impressive player for the Yankees this season. On Tuesday night, Kiner-Falefa had a single that scored just two runs in a 2-0 win over the Rays at the stadium. And he made defensive plays to help stand those two runs.
“That’s what I enjoy the most,” Kiner-Falefa said of the impressive, clutch plays. “I love being in those places. When the team needs me the most, I enjoy being in it. It makes me really happy and it helps the team. It’s my job. That’s why I Here I am. I’ve been a little shaky on some plays this year, but I definitely feel like I can have games like this tonight.”
Kinner-Falefa has played 230 games at shortstop, but has also been a catcher, second baseman and third baseman in the big leagues. He has just 1 defensive run saved rating and some shaky regular plays.
But Kiner-Falefa grows up in those moments when the Yankees need it the most.
“Izzy is a gamer, man. And he made a lot of great plays tonight and obviously came off with a big hit,” said Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “He would do a lot of things to help you win the game. And he’s been in the middle of winning a lot of games, whether it’s a big hit or a big defensive game, and there were some sparklers tonight.”
Those sparklers came in the clutch of the sixth inning.
He made an impressive dive to intercept Ji-Man Choi’s grounder and scored a run for no run. In the next game, Gerrit Cole forced Randy Arozerena to field against Kiner-Falefa, who began a 6–4–3 double play to end the innings and maintain the final score.
Cole said, “He just downed it right there, obviously, it’s huge.” “If that’s not one defensive run left, I don’t know what one is.”
Kiner-Falefa’s line drive from Kluber to left-center field, something the Yankees took off on Tuesday night’s Rays Corey Kluber.
“That was tough,” Kinner-Falefa said of trying to kill Kluber. “I’ll just tell you his contact skills. He’s definitely a guy that’s hard to run… so whenever you can, just get a barrel on the ball and just find a way to drop something and then those Use my communication skills in situations.”
“I’m working on more power, hopefully it’s coming,” Kiner-Falefa said. “For now I’m trying to do something.”
For some time the Yankees were tied to Kiner-Falefa, but the free-agent shortstop class was loaded the previous winter. After the Yankees eventually decided they could not clash with Gleber Torres at shortstop, the call from most fans was for a big-name shortstop. With two of their top prospects – Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe – shortstop, however, the Yankees were not looking to spend a lot of money and play time to fill the position this season.
The Yankees acquired Kenner-Falefa, a lifelong Yankees fan, in a deal that sent struggling catcher Gary Sanchez and third baseman Gio Ursella to the Twins, who had just acquired him from the Rangers. The deal also gave the Yankees Josh Donaldson and catcher Ben Rorthwaite. He felt that Kenner-Falefa could be solid defensively and add some athleticism to his lineup.
So far, in 57 games, Kiner-Falefa is hitting .272/.319/.323 with .642 OPS. He has nine stealing bases from 10 doubles and 17 RBI. The 27-year-old, who hit eight homers with Rangers last season, has yet to hit a home this season.