CLEVELAND — With All-Star power, bashing Baby Bombers and the true grit of veteran players like Brett Gardner, it’s easy to overlook what Aaron Hicks brings to this Yankees lineup.
But then there are games like Thursday night’s critical 7-4 victory over the Indians and two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber at Progressive Field to show just how much the switch-hitting Hicks means to the Yankees.
And get this, he’s a jokester, too. Who knew?
As the trade deadline nears and so many deals are being considered, Hicks, who was acquired from the Twins after the 2015 season for catcher John Ryan Murphy, is one of Brian Cashman’s best trades.
Where would the Yankees be without Hicks?
Hicks already has established a new career high with 16 home runs and is key to the Yankees offense in many ways. The Yankees have been finding the big hits and other ways to score lately, not just by the home run.
It was Hicks’ one-out, eighth-inning double off the center-field wall against Kluber that scored Didi Gregorius to snap a 4-4 tie. Hicks then stole third base with a lefty at the plate, Greg Bird, against Oliver Perez and that set up Bird’s sacrifice fly for a huge insurance run.
In the ninth, Gardner hit his second home run of the night, this one off the right-field foul pole for the final advantage.
It was the tools of Hicks that made all the difference in a game Luis Severino gave up four runs over five innings. Hicks is such a valuable asset in today’s game where so many players are so one-dimensional.
Aaron Boone knows how important the center fielder is to the big picture Yankees.
“Aaron does so many things with his ability to get on base,’’ Boone said. “The speed element. The power he brings from both sides of the plate and as a switch-hitter just the flexibility he gives where he can hit anywhere in the order. He’s hit anywhere from leading off against lefties a lot of times; I’ve hit him third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh. You can kind of build your lineup a little bit around him because of the switch-hitting piece that he brings.
“He’s played really, really well for us. He’s just a really good player and I’m glad that people are a little more starting to see that.’’
Aaron Judge echoed his manager.
“We know how valuable [Hicks] is to this team,’’ Judge told The Post. “He can hit leadoff for us one day. He can hit ninth. He can hit third. It really doesn’t matter. He fits his role because he has good at-bats, works counts, uses the whole field and can steal a base, that was a big stolen base. He does a lot of little things that don’t show up in the stats but are crucial.’’
There is the clubhouse presence, too. Judge let us in on a little secret.
“He is a jokester,’’ Judge said. “He’s always having fun. He’s serious on the field but he likes to have some fun and keeps things loose. That fits right in with what we got going on with this team.’’
What the 61-31 Yankees have going on is they are a high-water mark 30 games over .500, the first time they have seen that rarified air before the All-Star break since 1998. That team was 61-20.
Hicks is batting .306 over his past 14 games with six homers, three doubles, 11 RBIs and 13 runs scored. Coming into that eighth-inning at-bat, Hicks was 3-for-25 against Kluber. When a Cleveland reporter reminded him of that statistic, Hicks did not miss a beat, saying, “Yeah it’s not good, thank you for that.’’
Just a hint of the jokester.
As for the critical stolen base, Hicks was well aware of Perez’s hesitation delivery even with a lefty at the plate and the catcher Yan Gomes having a clear shot at Hicks. As for his all-around game, Hicks noted it is one thing to have all those tools, but pointed out, “you have to have those tools sharpened up.’’
The tools are sharpened. The Yankees need every one of them.