After watching Nick Swisher smash one into the second deck in Sunday’s Old-Timers’ Game and even seeing Aaron Boone go deep in batting practice, the sellout crowd of 46,400 for the Father’s Day matinee was in no mood for Giancarlo Stanton’s empty trips to the plate in the Yankees’ 3-1 loss to the Rays.
On an afternoon meant to celebrate dads, they chose to boo the Yankees’ highest-paid dud, and Stanton heard it from the fans after whiffing in two key spots.
You would think playing for a first-place team that wins nearly 70 percent of the time — including 13 of their last 17 games — might give Stanton a little shelter in the Bronx, allow him to walk back to the dugout in frustrated silence rather than be showered with jeers by his own fans.
But everyone is tired of waiting, and rightfully so. The Yankees traded for the National League MVP and picked up his $265-million tab because they expected him to do the same damage wearing pinstripes as he did while playing for Miami. Instead, the 6-6 slugger has been coming up painfully small in the biggest spots, and that wilting under pressure continued Sunday.
In the fifth inning, after Rays reliever Jose Alvarado entered with two outs and immediately walked Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius, Stanton did not have a competitive at-bat. He took the opening fastball for a ball, then watched the next two heaters before missing badly on an 88-mph slider and striking out.
Gregorius opened the eighth with an infield hit and raced to second on a botched pickoff attempt. That teed it up for Stanton again, but Diego Castillo whiffed him with a 91-mph cutter.
These days happen. As we all know, baseball is a game of failure, yada, yada, yada.
But as pedestrian as Stanton’s statistics look — when measured on an MVP scale — his pressure numbers appear far worse. With runners in scoring position, he’s hitting .200 (13-for-65). With two outs in those situations, it shrinks to .185 (5-for-27). And in the scenario described as “late-and-close” — from the seventh inning on, with at least the tying run on deck — he shrivels to .118 (4-for-34).
If Stanton is feeling tight in those spots, the tension seems to be carrying over to his locker, where he kept his clipped responses to mostly one-word answers. When told that Boone suggested he’s struggling with his timing, Stanton replied, “Yeah, probably.” As for how he’s feeling at the plate, he went with a positive spin. “It’s getting better,” he said. “I’m seeing the ball better. The results haven’t been there.”
Stanton does have 16 home runs, but that has him in a six-way tie for 11th in the majors. We can’t remember too many of those home runs coming in crucial junctures. He has hit 10 of them when the Yankees have been ahead and zero in those previously mentioned “late-and-close” situations. Eleven of his home runs have been solo shots.
Stanton hasn’t been singled out very often because the Yankees are winning with machine-like efficiency. But on those infrequent occasions when they do lose, it’s impossible to overlook the obvious, and Stanton has to be feeling the squeeze. He was the last Yankee to appear at his locker after Sunday’s loss, and the last thing he wanted to be doing was facing reporters to chat about what went wrong.
When he was asked if this year has been tough for him personally, he offered only “Yes,” then paused for the next question.
It’s not as if he’s going to stand there and apologize. He knows he’s underperforming, and the manager covering for him on a daily basis isn’t going to change that perception.
Hal Steinbrenner recently said he isn’t worried, but we have to wonder. There’s a ton of money tied up in Stanton, and the payoff hasn’t been there yet.
Is the MVP-caliber Stanton going to surface eventually? The Yankees can only hope so.
“Keep working,” he said. “Never stop. There’s nothing else to do.”
Otherwise, get earplugs.