Kiner-Falefa puts record-breaking June steal above cheers and jeers during Yankees days

Yankees’ Kiner-Falefa ends up with a defensive and a base-running error against Texas at Yankee Stadium on June 23, 2023.

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In 2023, Isiah Kiner-Falefa turned the tide in pinstripes and Yankees fans forgot the 2022 jeers to cheer his utility role in pinstripes. He, however, has opted for a fresh start, signing a lucrative two-year, $15 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. His tenure with the Yankees was a rollercoaster ride – enduring fan criticism for defensive struggles at shortstop early on, before ultimately regaining their support with a strong showing across multiple positions.

While some might remember the boos of 2022 as his defining moment in pinstripes, Kiner-Falefa chooses to focus on the positives. In his own reflection on his two-year run with the Yankees, it’s the 2023 season that stands out – a time when he emerged as a consistent performer, showcasing his defensive adaptability while playing a key role for a team ultimately mired in disappointment.

His ability to seamlessly transition between positions and provide reliable defense across the diamond is a valuable asset the Yankees now miss, especially facing uncertainty around their Opening Day lineup.
The standout moment for Isiah Kiner-Falefa during his time with the Yankees occurred on June 14 of last year in a game against the Mets. Positioned on third base, Kiner-Falefa took advantage of a distracted Brooks Raley on the mound and executed a daring steal of home plate, a feat not achieved by a Yankee in nearly seven years.

Reflecting on that memorable play, Kiner-Falefa expressed his joy at stealing home during the intense Subway Series rivalry, considering it a highlight surpassing any playoff game he had experienced before.

Kiner-Falefa won over fans before exit

Hailing from Hawaii and growing up as a Yankees fan, Kiner-Falefa realized his childhood dream when he joined the club as its shortstop in 2022 following a trade in March. However, his defensive struggles and inadequate hitting made him a target of fan criticism.

Yankees' Isiah Kiner-Falefa steals a base during the game against the White Sox on August 8, 2023, in Chicago.
AP Photo/Erin Hooley

Despite losing his starting role during the playoffs and Anthony Volpe taking over in the subsequent season, Kiner-Falefa transformed from a figure of frustration to a beloved player among the fanbase. His versatility as a super-utility player, capable of handling various infield and outfield positions, endeared him to Yankees fans.

Kiner-Falefa showcased his versatility by playing predominantly in center field while also making appearances at various positions across the field, excluding catcher and first base.

Despite the Yankees’ offensive struggles during his tenure, Kiner-Falefa proved to be a reliable contributor, demonstrating consistent contact at the plate, which was a rarity within the team’s lineup. While his offensive performance may not have been exceptional, he maintained a solid level of play with a .646 OPS across 113 games.

Expressing appreciation for his time with the Yankees, Kiner-Falefa regarded it as a significant blessing in his career. He acknowledged the invaluable experiences gained and emphasized the accelerated learning process he underwent while playing in New York. Additionally, he highlighted the opportunity to learn from his teammates, which further enriched his development during his two-year stint with the team.

Yankees' Isiah Kiner-Falefa is seen during the game against the White Sox on August 8, 2023, in Chicago.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa joins a youthful Blue Jays squad where he’s likely to see more consistent playing time. While he’s been practicing different positions, indications suggest he’ll settle in as the starting third baseman.

During a recent spring training session, Kiner-Falefa and another player (Eduardo Escobar) took turns fielding grounders at third, reminiscent of a New York double-play practice. This further hints at his potential role.

Looking back on the previous season, Kiner-Falefa acknowledges the positive moments but also the stretches with less playing time. Now, he’s clearly excited about the chance to be a regular contributor to the lineup, emphasizing its significance for him.

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