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Baseball 101: In this game, it’s two for the show

Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge at spring training

Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge at spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Feb. 20, 2018 Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

It takes two. That is at the heart of everything that happens in baseball. Every pitch begins with some interaction between two players, a pitcher and a catcher, and involves a matchup between a pitcher and a batter. All sorts of twosomes spring from there.

A pitch is a ball or a strike, a play is either safe or out. There are only two options for a ball in play: fair or foul. A play is scored either a hit or an error. In any given game, a pitcher is either a starter or a reliever. There are only two major leagues. Every player in an organization falls into one of two categories: major-leaguer or minor-leaguer.

Each inning has two halves. Every contest falls into one of only two categories, day game or night game. There are two clear-cut sides in every baseball labor negotiation: players and owners. There are two types of retired players, those who are in the Hall of Fame and those who are not.

Of course, we all know that baseball is a team game composed of individuals performing one by one, but the sport’s dramas are reminiscent of the manifest of Noah’s Ark: They come two by two. Even at a time when an ocean of numbers is available to baseball aficionados, “2” still stands out. Other sports have their share of rivalries and combinations, but none has as many pairings as baseball does.

All of this comes to mind at the start of 2018, as the Yankees became the first team since 1962 to open spring training with a roster that includes two reigning 50-plus home run hitters. National League Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton, who hit 59 homers for the Marlins, and American League MVP runner-up and Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge, who hit 52 for the Yankees, are the first such tandem since Yankees teammates Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle returned after a season in which they hit 61 and 54, respectively.

“You see two twin towers, man, getting off the bus, it’s something to look at,” Reggie Jackson said early in Yankees camp last month. “We’ll sell out some batting practices and we’ll run out of balls once in a while.”

The sight of the 6-7 Judge and the 6-6 Stanton in the same lineup inspires a look at many other notable baseball twosomes, past and present. So “Dynamic Duos” is the topic of our annual Baseball 101 feature.

Baseball 101 is our annual spring seminar on the game, looking into the soul of the sport from a particular lens by listing 101 prime examples. Last year, we explored 101 “firsts,” and in previous years, we have looked at 101 great nicknames, 101 noteworthy replacements, 101 memorable numbers and 101 games.

This time it is 101 duos. Those include twosomes who did amazing things, such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig or Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. It also takes in opponents who will go through history together for having been on opposite sides of the same event, i.e. Ralph Branca and Bobby Thomson. There also are classic pairs that are intrinsic to the baseball vocabulary: peanuts and Cracker Jack.

In the case of teammates such as Maris and Mantle, each one’s skills seemed to amplify the other’s. In what might be an omen for Judge and Stanton, neither of the M & M Boys came close to repeating his 1961 feat the following season. Maris hit 33 homers in 1962, Mantle had 30. But their team did win the World Series, and Yankees fans would be just fine with that result this year.

For now, as the season opens, we invoke the spirit of Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, famous for his slogan “Let’s play two!” In this case, let’s celebrate two 101 times.

New York Sports