BALTIMORE — When Luke Voit excitedly picked himself up off the infield dirt after scampering home to score on a wild pitch late Sunday night, he heard a familiar sound echo throughout Camden Yards.
Many years ago, on football fields across his native Missouri, Voit heard that chant shouted regularly by fans of his Lafayette High School Lancers.
So, as he energetically jogged back to the New York Yankees dugout after scoring to increase the Bronx Bombers’ lead over the Baltimore Orioles to 5-1, hearing the chant for the fourth time of the weekend from another pro-Yankees crowd reminded him of his time as a prep fullback and middle linebacker.
That memory made him smile.
It wasn’t the only time Voit would flash his broad, infectious, Midwestern grin. A three-homer weekend gave one of the newest Yankees reason to keep a smile plastered on his face as the team heads back to the Bronx to open a seven-game homestand.
“It’s almost September, the playoffs are right around the corner,” Voit said following the Yankees’ 5-3 win over the O’s. “I never got to experience the playoffs, and this is my chance to kind of show them what I’ve got.
“And I’m just having fun with it.”
According to his manager, all the fun Voit is having has helped spark the rest of the club.
“Definitely earned his keep here,” Aaron Boone said, “and having an impact on us winning some games.”
Voit’s two-run homer in the second inning Sunday gave the Yankees an early lead and some necessary firepower in yet another victory. After having just five home runs through his first 143 career at-bats entering this weekend, he homered three times in 10 at-bats over the past three days.
“It’s like Christmas morning,” Voit said of being dialed in at the plate.
With a sweep of the Orioles, the Yankees have sliced deeply into the Boston Red Sox‘s once-massive lead in the American League East. With the help of the Tampa Bay Rays‘ weekend sweep of Boston, the Yankees have gone from being 10½ games out of first place on Aug. 16 to just six games back 10 days later.
Voit, whose big muscles are matched by an even bigger joy for playing baseball, has been a big reason that deficit has shrunk.
“He’s doing everything right now,” Yankees starter Luis Severino said of Voit.
In earning his 17th win on Sunday, Severino became the first Yankees pitcher to have that many W’s in a season since CC Sabathia finished 2011 with 19.
Just what all has Voit been doing?
Across the four games in Baltimore, he went 6-for-10, drawing three walks and scoring four runs to go with his three homers. He also drove his OPS up from .592 entering the series to 1.025 by the time it ended. Granted, Voit’s season OPS numbers are highly volatile because he has had only 40 big league at-bats this season; but he is trending in the right direction.
Moved into the starting lineup in recent days, Voit is coming on to play first base in place of a slumping Greg Bird, who is currently hitting .199.
Voit is doing something else few saw coming when he was traded to Yankees from the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29 in exchange for pitchers Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos. Voit has been a spark plug.
With the Yankees coming off a long stretch of games in which they looked sluggish and lethargic as a team to many outside the clubhouse, a jolt of energy was needed.
Cue Voit’s 10th-inning homer Friday night.
Nanoseconds after placing a 95.9 mph fastball over the right-field wall to give the Yankees some needed insurance, Voit hopped up the first-base line à la Sammy Sosa, then clapped his hands rounding first base before shouting to himself, “Let’s go.”
Cameras caught teammates in the Yankees dugout beside themselves, laughing as they witnessed Voit’s glee while running the bases. It was the second time joy had fully washed over Voit while rounding his way toward home that night. Earlier, he punched the air with a firm fist pump as he sped around the bases, punctuating his first home run as a Yankee.
Others on the team have started feeding off that energy.
“He gets so happy when he hits a homer,” a laughing Severino said. “So everybody wants to go out there and give 100 percent.”
Voit said he’s simply doing the only thing he knows how to do.
“I want to bring enthusiasm, bring this stuff, because why not?” Voit said. “I just enjoy having fun. I mean, I know this game can be a dagger on yourself, and it can put a damper on it. I’m sure I’m going to have games where I’m going to go 0-for-4 and I’m going to strike out, but you’ve just got to stay positive, and you can’t take the negatives out of anything.”
Consider this complete cosmic karma.
Across the same three days that Major League Baseball held its annual Players Weekend, the Yankees player who best exhibited the youthful enthusiasm the weekend was designed to celebrate was their biggest difference-maker.
“The big thing for me is that I try to be that upbeat guy in the locker room,” said Voit, who wore his birth name — Louis — on his uniform jersey this weekend. “Maybe it’s that football guy in me.”
Football was Voit’s passion before a high school shoulder injury ended his dreams of playing for an SEC powerhouse. Instead, he stuck with baseball and graduated from the same school that produced the likes of David Freese and Ryan Howard.
After going on to play college baseball at Missouri State, he was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2013 draft by the Cardinals. He only knew “The Cardinal Way” until the Yankees came calling a month ago. Now that he’s in pinstripes, Voit simply wants to take advantage of every opportunity he receives.
“It’s been a weird season going up and down a lot,” Voit said of his 11 trips between the minors and majors for the Cardinals and Yankees. “I’m just happy to finally have a place, and I’m just trying to stay positive and do my thing.”