Giancarlo Stanton was booed at Yankee Stadium the very first day he played in pinstripes. Before this October is over, he’d like to hear something a little more positive, but only Stanton can change his soundtrack.
Based on his first regular season with the Yankees, Stanton as been more of a Mr. June or Mr. August, with a season-best .950 OPS in those months. Before Monday night’s Game 3, however, Stanton was pretty much AWOL in October.
No, we didn’t forget the Wild Card game solo homer off the A’s Blake Treinen, but that occurred in the eighth inning, with the Yankees already ahead 6-2. What sticks with everyone more is what followed in this Division Series, against the archrival Red Sox, at Fenway Park — and Stanton came up small during the most pivotal moments.
The Yankees could easily have won Game 1 with even a minimal contribution from Stanton, but he whiffed four times, including with the bases loaded and none out in the seventh. That was tough to swallow in a 5-4 loss, especially when Stanton never got the bat off his shoulder in watching three straight strikes from Sox closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth.
“I wasn’t able to get the job done,” Stanton said afterward.
Stanton stranded five in Game 1, and the futility continued the following night in Game 2, but the Yankees didn’t need his help to escape Fenway with a split. He grounded into a pair of double plays, and would have hit into another if his bouncer to third base wasn’t too soft for the turn. Stanton also whiffed with two Yankees on, and his playoff ineptitude to this stage — even with a small sample size — was growing into an October hurdle.
“I think he’s totally equipped for this,” Aaron Boone said before Monday night’s Game 3. “With Giancarlo, sometimes when he doesn’t get a hit or whatever, sometimes he doesn’t look great necessarily doing it. But we also know he’s always so close from being able to have a major impact in the game.
“But what he’s shown me, without a shadow of a doubt this year, that he is so equipped to handle the ups and the downs and the daily stuff that goes on.”
October is a different animal, of course. But it’s not like Stanton had a smooth introduction to the Bronx, even after he was fitted for pinstripes. Stanton, playing for the first time in front of his new fans, struck out five times on Opening Day, prompting boos from the sellout crowd.
So much for a grace period. Maybe it’s the $265 million he’s pulling in from the Yankees, but what difference should that make to a person who pays only for a ticket? Stanton is the reigning Nationals League MVP, an honor he earned in obscurity with the Marlins, so perhaps the rude welcome was a byproduct of those dashed expectations.
But the booing stretched from Opening Day through the first week, as Stanton batted .108 (3-for-28) with a home run and 16 strikeouts before the Yankees mercifully left New York again. Eventually, the jeering faded, as Stanton became more productive in his new surroundings, and the fans weren’t quite as restless as the Yankees rolled to a 100-win season.
You have to wonder, though, just how comfortable Stanton really is in the Bronx. There’s an obvious disparity between his home and road splits, which seems out of whack for such a hitter’s paradise like Yankee Stadium, where Stanton drilled 20 homers in 78 games but had a disappointing slash line of .229/.311/.779. Away from the Bronx, Stanton hit 18 home runs in 80 games as the rest of his production significantly jumped to a slash line of .300/.374/.921.
Could there be a psychological component at work? Possibly. Stanton is 28, and he’s been one of the most intimidating sluggers in the sport for nine years now. But the difference between playing on South Beach and the Bronx is more than sand, surf and stone crabs. While Aaron Judge has quickly grown into the face of the franchise, his larger-than-life presence isn’t enough to blot out Stanton’s failures.
And when Judge disappeared to the disabled list for seven weeks, Stanton batted .231 with 11 homers and 28 RBIs over those 47 games, going deep with slightly less frequency than usual. Stanton did play a team-high 158 games overall — made possible by 85 starts at DH — and fought through some leg issues in the process, so there certainly was no problem with the effort.
But effort alone, as Stanton is learning, is never enough in the Bronx.