Giancarlo Stanton played 1,144 games before ever tasting the playoffs — languishing in Miami, and having his offseason start more or less on the same day every year, around Oct. 1, regardless of whatever majestic feats he accomplished during the course of the summer. So when he settled in against Craig Kimbrel in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s do-or-die game against the Red Sox, it seemed like a prime moment to truly, really earn his postseason pinstripes.
Instead, down by three runs with two on and none out, Stanton took a mighty hack against a closer who had no vision of the strike zone. Kimbrel, up to that point, was unsettled and wild, slotted a knuckle curve on the inside part of the plate that buckled the Yankees’ mighty hitter. The next pitch was low, nearly bouncing, but Stanton swung through it. The third was high; Stanton laid off. And the fourth was low again, but this time, he just couldn’t lay off.
The Yankees eventually ended up coming tantalizingly close, but literally just a few inches short of forcing a Game 5. Their season is over, and Stanton’s taste of the postseason now has a distinctive bitter tinge.
“I don’t want to experience the postseason,” he said. “I want to win it all. I’m just as disappointed as the guys that went further last year and came up short. I’m feeling some of their pain here but they got two years in a row …We’re going to come together and use this as fuel for next year.”
So ends the year for a player who was sometimes booed as much he was cheered. After signing with the Marlins in 2014 for 13 years, $350 million, then getting traded to the Yankees before this season, he was expected to be a game changer and a bash brother for Aaron Judge. In many ways he was, hitting .266 with 38 home runs, but his mighty price tag meant mighty expectations, and when Stanton didn’t produce, he heard it from fans. He sometimes seemed to struggle to acclimate to the New York fishbowl, especially after years of relative Floridian anonymity.
This postseason, he was 5-for-17, with a homer and an RBI. Against Kimbrel, he’s rarely had success, entering Tuesday night 2-for-11 with no homers, two RBIs, two walks and five strikeouts.
“He threw some hits out there, a little up and down, had some good at-bats, got on base a little bit” was Boone’s assessment of Stanton’s postseason. “Obviously had some chances, some chances where he could have made a big difference with a big hit or whatever and it just didn’t happen in this series.”
Stanton ended up 0-for-4 Tuesday, though, to be fair, most of the Yankees’ lineup struggled against Rick Porcello and a small troupe of relievers, including a cameo by Cy Young candidate Chris Sale.
Judge, who was on second base when Stanton came up to bat in the ninth, hoped for a little magic from his fellow heavy hitter. He’d seen him do it before, he said. Why not now, in this big stage he’s waited so long to be a part of?
“Stanton is our guy,” Judge said. “He’s been in that situation before multiple times and I’ve seen him come through multiple times. I think it was earlier in the year, he hit a grand slam against the Red Sox. I was on second base for that. I’ve seen him go through it multiple times. Facing Kimbrel, one of the best closers in the game, it’s never an easy at-bat.”
As for Stanton, he didn’t offer too much of a post-mortem. Asked about his approach with Kimbrel, his explanation was simple, and short: “You gotta put the ball in play, gotta get a pitch out over the plate,” he said.
And asked what the Red Sox were able to do that they weren’t, he didn’t offer up too much of an answer at all. It all seemed too fresh. It turns out, the offseason comes quick, whether it’s Oct. 1 or Oct. 8.
“We came up short,” he said. “That’s it. That’s it.”