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Yankees' Gary Sanchez could be the AL Rookie of the Year

TAMPA, Fla. -- Gary Sanchez could be the American League Rookie of the Year because he has been the best player in baseball over a six-week period. On Tuesday, he broke the New York Yankees' five-game losing streak by lashing another go-ahead three-run homer.

Anyone who has been around the Yankees since Sanchez arrived on Aug. 3 has witnessed firsthand not a flash in the pan but a talent who could perennially be an All-Star.

You don't believe us? Let Mark Teixeira, who has seen a lot in his 14 years in the big leagues, describe Sanchez's 17 homers.

"There are plenty of words -- amazing, incredible, impressive," Teixeira said after he, too, homered in the Yankees' 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. "He's carried us. We are not even close to talking about a playoff berth if Gary doesn't come up and do what he has done."

The numbers do not lie. His 17 homers tie the Boston Braves' Wally Berger in 1930 for the most in the first 44 games of a career. Sanchez has homered in three consecutive games, which is the second time in a month he has done that. His next homer will match Alfonso Soriano's 18 rookie homers as a Yankee in 2001. Soriano used 574 at-bats, while Sanchez has had 162.

Memo to managers: Pitch to Sanchez at your own risk.

Rays manager Kevin Cash could have taken the bat out of Sanchez's hands in the seventh inning on Tuesday. With two outs and men on second and third, Cash could have had his pitcher, Brad Boxberger, intentionally walk Sanchez to load the bases for Billy Butler. The game was tied at 2. Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey discussed the options with Boxberger.

Boxberger said, "The matchup was better against Butler, but he left it up to me and I wanted Sanchez."

Boxberger reasoned that if Cash wanted to "100 percent" walk Sanchez, the manager would have made the call. Cash said he thought Yankees manager Joe Girardi would have used Brian McCann to pinch hit for Butler against the righty. That potential matchup seems like it would have been a better option in real time and in hindsight.

Sanchez went up there looking fastball, but Boxberger tried to outfox him.

"First-pitch slider against me is probably not in the scouting report too much," Boxberger said. "So what he did was pretty impressive."

Sanchez adjusted to the pitch and crushed it, giving the Yankees the lead and maybe knocking some sense into the Rays' future plans.

"They'll probably walk him next time, I would think," Butler said.

Sanchez must be considered for Rookie of the Year, even if he will play only around a third of the season. The Tigers' Michael Fulmer is 10-7 with a 3.03 ERA in 24 starts, while Indians center fielder Tyler Naquin has a .302 average, 14 homers, 42 RBIs, and a .911 OPS in 106 games. Sanchez has a .327 average, 17 homers, 33 RBIs, and a 1.109 OPS in 42 games. Plus, Sanchez catches -- and is doing so at an extremely high level, as evidenced by Michael Pineda's 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball, which was aided by Sanchez's game-calling.

"You can talk about the three-run homer, but I thought he did a fabulous job with Michael tonight," Girardi said.

Sanchez's catching is the subtle part of his game -- well, when he is not throwing out potential base stealers from his knees -- but it's his bat that is making his at-bats ones you make sure you see.

"That's the fun thing about power hitters," Teixeira said. "When you are on a streak like that, you can carry a team for a month, and he has done that."

As for Sanchez, he won't think about Rookie of the Year honors, as he still thinks the Yankees -- 3 1/2 games back in the AL wild-card race -- have a chance with 12 games remaining.

"My focus is to win ballgames," Sanchez said.

That is for now. Later, it could be the Rookie of the Year.