Tricky thing about the sun. If you’re standing on the planet Earth during the daytime, that giant ball of burning gases has a decent chance of impacting your life, one way or the other.
“The sun is always there,” Brett Gardner said. “It doesn’t move.”
Give Gardner an A-plus in astronomy. And we figure a C-minus to leftfield candidate Giancarlo Stanton for his rocky debut at the position — mostly for repeatedly getting blinded — during Sunday’s 9-1 loss to the Rays at Steinbrenner Field.
The Yankees already had a rightfielder named Aaron Judge when Brian Cashman pulled off the heist of the offseason and traded for Stanton. When the National League MVP essentially drops in your lap and you convince the boss that $260 million is pennies on the dollar for a 59-homer slugger, the position stuff can always be sorted out later.
That moment arrived Sunday, with Aaron Boone giving Stanton his first major-league start in left — he played there in five games for Double-A Jacksonville — and Judge in right. Gardner was in center, where he was too far away to bail out Stanton on two fly balls that probably would have been caught by someone like, say, Gardner.
The first was a long drive by Jake Bauers in the second inning, and Stanton seemed ready to snare it while running into the gap. But at the last moment, with his glove raised, he had to look away and the ball clanged off leather for a double.
In the fourth, Kevin Kiermaier hit a high, slicing shot that Stanton didn’t appear to see very well before it hopped over the fence for a double.
“Yeah, they were in the sun,” Stanton said. “But that doesn’t matter. It’s still part of the game.”
Give Stanton extra credit for not making excuses. By any defensive metric, he was a solid rightfielder for the Marlins, and he knows those balls need to be caught. If Sunday’s game had been played at night, maybe we’re not even having this discussion. But the Yankees need to see Stanton show competence in leftfield if they’re going to trust him there during the regular season.
Boone made sure he had Stanton’s back afterward. Ten games into his managerial career, Boone isn’t about to utter a single word that might be construed as remotely negative about the MVP. As such, Boone praised Stanton for a good first step and decent effort tracking both balls while piling all the blame on the cloudless sky.
“You know what?” Boone said. “I honestly feel like it was a positive and certainly part of the process. We picked about as tough a day as you could have to play in Florida.”
On the YES broadcast, Boone also blamed the wind as the sun’s accomplice, going all-in to demonize poor Mother Nature. But when we offered that up to Stanton, he shrugged. He said he had to do a better job out there and claimed to feel comfortable on that strange patch of grass. So what does he need to do?
“You get sun vision,” Stanton said, cracking a smile.
Whatever that is, he had roughly 48 hours to come up with it before Boone sticks him in leftfield again Tuesday against the Tigers. If this experiment is going to work, the Yankees have to keep throwing Stanton and eventually Judge into that unfamiliar spot, while praying neither gets hurt learning the ropes.
This reshuffling reminds me somewhat of what the Mets did in 2005 after signing Carlos Beltran, which forced incumbent centerfielder Mike Cameron to switch to right. Both were excellent defenders, but Cameron never felt comfortable sliding over, and both were seriously injured in a horrific collision that season at Petco Park.
It was a freakish accident but a reminder that these position switches don’t always go seamlessly, as Stanton discovered on this sun-splashed afternoon.