Anthony Rizzo batting leadoff for Yankees in AL Wild Card game against Red Sox, who plug Kyle Schwarber in top spot

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BOSTON — When the lineups were released for the 2021 American League Wild Card game, it took all of one spot for the surprises to jump out.

In the leadoff spot for the Yankees: Anthony Rizzo.

In the leadoff spot for the Red Sox: Kyle Schwarber.

“I love it,” Rizzo said of the leadoff role. “I’ve never done it in the postseason. (Aaron Boone) just let me know and said I’m in. It doesn’t matter where you hit this time of year. It’s about winning and playing for the other 25 guys on your team.”

Rizzo was retired on the first two at-bats of his night, including a groundout to first on the very first pitch of the game. He struck out swinging in his second at-bat but revived the Yankees in the top of the sixth with a solo home run that curled around the Pesky Pole.

Rizzo also acknowledged that he talked to Schwarber, who he considers a “good friend” from their time with the Cubs, and shared a laugh about two non-prototypical leadoff men handling it in a playoff game.

Tuesday was the 66th time in his 11-year career that Rizzo has started a game in the lineup’s top spot, but just the second time with the Yankees. He held down the spot on August 1 in Miami, just his third game for the Yankees. But now that DJ LeMahieu — who hit leadoff 144 times for the Yankees in the regular season — has a sports hernia, Boone wanted someone there who is, by his own words, a low maintenance “gamer.”

“It is another tool,” Boone said of Rizzo’s cool headed demeanor, born out of playing deep into the postseason several times. “He has that way about him, that presence. He likes to play and likes when it’s big, but he’s kind of himself all the time. He made some comments to look around and enjoy this, but he also has a lot of confidence. There’s no question that he’s had a positive impact outside the lines.”

Coming into Tuesday, the Yankees’ first baseman boasted a .321/.407/.554 slash line while batting first. His .961 OPS is his highest in any position in the batting order, topping the .897 he has during his career while hitting fourth. This season, Rizzo mostly hit second for the Bombers. He did that 30 times, often in front of Aaron Judge, who hit behind him in the Wild Card game.

In moving Judge to second and Giancarlo Stanton to third, Boone made a calculated change aimed at setting up RBI situations for Gleyber Torres, who had been the interim leadoff guy.

“We considered going with Gleyber (in the leadoff spot) again today, but we really value Gleyber in the middle of the order,” Boone explained, noting that Judge, Stanton and Joey Gallo get on base frequently. “Hopefully there’s opportunities for him because he’s a guy I want up with runners on base.”

Torres did not end up getting a single at-bat with runners on base. After the game, Boone held firm, saying he didn’t regret any of his lineup decisions.

Gio Urshela got the start at third base after the team deemed him healthy and able enough to play. Urshela performed some pregame infield drills before the game to test out his comfort level after tumbling into the Rays’ dugout making a spectacular catch on Sunday. When Boone pinch hit Rougned Odor for Andrew Velazquez in the sixth inning, Urshela moved over to shortstop in the bottom of the frame while Odor took over at third.

YANKEES ADD TWO POSITION PLAYERS

Without LeMahieu and Luke Voit (knee inflammation), the Yankees are running thin on position players.

For the Wild Card game, they called up two guys — Greg Allen and Rob Brantly — who spent most of their year in the minor leagues. They contributed literally nothing, as neither player saw the field on Tuesday night.

Allen started eight games in right field and three in center this year when Aaron Judge was sidelined with COVID, Miguel Andujar, Clint Frazier and Tim Locastro were all nursing various injuries, and Joey Gallo was still in Texas. He went 10-for-37 (.270) at the plate and showed a keen eye for the strike zone that led to five walks in limited action.

“Allen’s a guy who, when was up for us, played really well,” Boone stated. “He just does a lot of things well. He’s an outstanding defensive outfielder and runs the bases really well. Just a good player who deserved to be here.”

Brantly made the Wild Card game roster as a third catcher. With Kyle Higashioka catching Gerrit Cole, Brantly’s presence freed Gary Sanchez to pinch hit for anybody in the lineup, rather than just for Higashioka. Boone said afterward that he considered shooting Sanchez into the lineup for Higashioka in the fifth inning, but with two outs and nobody on base decided to save that bullet for later.

The 31-year-old Brantly played even fewer games for the Yankees this year than Allen did. Brantly appeared in all of six games and picked up three hits. He threw out two of the three base runners who tried to steal on him, too.

“With Brantly, this is unique because it’s not a series, it’s one game,” Boone ran down. “Having the third catcher adds some value if you want to be aggressive pinch running or pinch hitting.” That didn’t matter whatsoever, as the Yankees were out of it in the late innings and had no need to get aggressive on the bases or in the box.

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