Aaron Hicks deemed his left oblique ready to go Tuesday when he was activated from the disabled list and returned to the Yankees’ starting lineup.
“When you know, you know,” he said before the game.
A game-changing catch hours later provided further proof.
Hicks delivered a highlight-reel grab to rob Wilson Ramos of a grand slam and made his presence felt throughout the night in the Yankees’ 6-1 win over the Rays at Yankee Stadium.
The Rays loaded the bases off Jordan Montgomery with one out in the top of the first before Ramos cracked a deep fly ball to center field. Hicks raced back and leaped at the fence, reaching over the wall to snag the ball for the out.
“It kind of just happened,” said Hicks. “It was fun to be able to do that.”
It was the second grand slam Hicks has prevented this year — he also stole one from the Angels’ Luis Valbuena in June. This one provided a good test to ensure his oblique was truly healthy again.
“It’s definitely a big test,” Hicks said. “I’m fully extended and I was able to make the catch. Body feels good right now.”
Manager Joe Girardi said he was initially worried about Hicks re-injuring himself on an all-out catch like that, but was relieved the center fielder saved the day.
“That was the difference in the game,” Girardi said. “It’s an incredible catch.”
“You’re not gonna see a better play than that,” first baseman Chase Headley said. “I’m not gonna say it’s the best play I’ve ever seen, but I haven’t seen many that are better than that.”
With the bat, Hicks displayed patience by drawing three walks despite playing in his first game since Sept. 2. He took 13 at-bats over the weekend in the instructional league in Tampa, but had gone 20 games without one in the majors.
Hicks drew three full counts in his four at-bats and forced home the eventual winning run with one of his walks. He also stole a base.
After striking out in his fourth at-bat in the bottom of the sixth inning, Hicks was pulled from the game — which Girardi said was the plan all along.
“His eye was really good tonight,” Girardi said. “Whether you get a hit or not, I always think that’s a good sign for a hitter.”
With five games left in the regular season, Girardi wants to get the switch-hitting Hicks more at-bats and will do so by giving Gardner, Aaron Judge and Jacoby Ellsbury some days off.
Hicks also missed time earlier in the season with a right oblique strain. In 22…