May 25, 2024

If you were one of those who questioned why Yankees bench player Jahmai Jones was chosen to start the series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays (hand raised…), the man himself had a rather strong reprimand for you in the top of the third inning on Sunday.

Jones hit not just his first home run of the season (six at-bats as of Sunday), but also his first MLB home run in 26 years. After the home run departed the yard, he and Alex Verdugo growled loudly in each other’s faces, followed by an embrace from Aaron Judge and a reported standing ovation from the Yankee bullpen.

Jones’ efforts behind the scenes, as well as his role as a bench cheerleader, have undoubtedly made him a unique piece of the Yankees’ chemistry puzzle. To an outsider, that section of the bench appeared almost haphazardly assembled, from Jones to Kevin Smith to Taylor Tammell’s odd inclusion.

Insiders have a different perspective, and the choice to let Jones go — which might happen when DJ LeMahieu, Oswald Peraza, and Jasson Dominguez are ready to return — may not be as clear-cut.

Yankees react to Jahmai Jones’ home run, but how long will he hold roster spot?

It still has to happen. Unless the Yankees never get any of these critical pieces back or lose faith in Oswaldo Cabrera, there is no way around the maneuver.

But Sunday’s dramatic blast reminded us all that there are actual individuals behind the box score who play roles that aren’t immediately apparent to the audience… until their significance is revealed in moments of jubilation.

Sunday’s lineup, which included a nearly full slate of regulars and Jones (a righty against a lefty) in place of a 0-for-16 Verdugo, was not the “punt lineup” that many reactionary fans had dreaded. However, Boone’s batting order revealed an unexpected reality along the way. Jones will be a Sporcle answer to everyone except the men in that locker room before the end of the year, potentially as early as May 31.

But on Sunday, at least once, he had a very meaningful impact on the Yankees’ prospects of doing well in a house of horrors, and the true affection his teammates showed in response to his milestone blast will be remembered, even if Jones’ presence is not.

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