Aaron Boone often talks about the importance of winning “on the margins” during the course of a given season.
And the third-year Yankees manager sees an opportunity — not an obstacle — in one of the elements of the 60-game season that starts for the Yankees on Thursday night in Washington:
Playing games in empty ballparks.
“I expect us to, hopefully, use it to our advantage,” Boone said before the Yankees played Joe Girardi's Phillies on Monday night at the Stadium in each team’s final exhibition game.
The game ended in a 2-2 tie after nine innings. Aaron Judge hit a solo homer, the third time he has gone deep in the last two days, and Mike Ford's pinch-hit homer in the bottom of the ninth tied it.
The game was played in an empty ballpark with fan noise pumped in.
“I just feel like that's one of the areas this year that I think there's going to be teams at times, I think there's going to be individuals at times, that it does affect in a negative way, not having those fans,” Boone said. “And I feel like that's one of those battles, one of those edges, that we need to be able to gain. We need to be able to find that energy every day, not have that be a distraction that I feel like it will inevitably be at times for teams and players. We need to take advantage of that.”
Every game has been a work in progress with the crowd noise. In Sunday night's 6-0 victory over the Mets, for example, the noise was at a slightly higher decibel on Gleyber Torres' first-inning single than on Judge's homer that preceded it.
“From my perspective, and I actually feel like from the players' perspective, my sense from the first games is it hasn't had that much of an effect,” Boone said. “Once you get into it and you get going and the scoreboard’s going and there’s music and there's sound, I found it pretty easy these first games for our guys to get locked in and focused. I believe it won't have that big of an effect.”
Which, Boone repeated, isn’t to say that it won’t at some point on some team.
“I could see scenarios where you're playing a team that's going through a tough time or struggling a little bit and obviously there's not that normal crowd there, there's not that normal motivation,” Boone said. “And that can't be an excuse. It's got to be something that we use to our advantage.”
Giancarlo Stanton played the first eight seasons of his career in Miami with the Marlins, a team that plays in a mostly empty ballpark much of the time.
“I mean this is a little more unique than that, I’d say, with having fan sounds on the speakers and whatnot,” Stanton said with a smile, comparing a typical game at Marlins Park and what he’s experienced in the last few days. “Just pretty unique overall. But in general, it is going be a different type of edge that you have to bring to the table. Some guys feed off the fans, some guys it doesn't matter. And you're going to see the difference. You're going to have to lock it in regardless because that's the case.''
How much does Stanton, who at times has received a rough reception from Yankees fans since arriving via trade before the 2018 season, feed off the fans?
“They’re great,” he said. “They’re great to interact with and be a part of the action, so that is a part I’m going to miss this year. But you have to find a way.”
Stanton, expected to be in the lineup as the DH Thursday, hit one of the Yankees' five homers in Sunday’s victory over the Mets (Judge hit two and Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit and Stanton added one apiece).
“It’s unreal. It’s unmatched in the league if we could all stay out there,” Stanton said of the offense’s potential with everyone healthy. “We definitely know what we’re capable of. It’s just a matter of putting it out there.”