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SportsColumnistsLaura Albanese

Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees give fans a reason to believe

Yankees designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton tosses his bat

Yankees designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton tosses his bat after hitting a grand slam against the Baltimore Orioles during the fifth inning on Monday, April 5, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

It’s tempting, isn’t it? The inclination to don the sackcloth and ash, to panic over the Yankees’ slow start at the plate, to wonder if some of the most formidable bats in the American League just don’t have it this year.

Ridiculous, but tempting.

And that’s the nature of being a baseball fan, really. It’s a long 162 games, and early on we spend every series, sometimes every game, wondering if this is what we’re going to get for the next six months. It’s how we deal with the unpredictability of a deeply unpredictable sport, and how we end up a few games into the season wondering if Giancarlo Stanton will ever hit again.

But guess what? Stanton, the guy who’s been booed since his second at-bat on Opening Day, did get that hit Monday. It went 471 feet to left-centerfield and drove in four runs as the Yankees beat the Orioles, 7-0.

Aaron Judge hit a homer, too, and both proved that no matter how bad things look for a game, or two or three, this still is the type of lineup that can destroy pitchers when it gets going.

All of that means a lot for Stanton, who came into the game 0-for-8 and was treated by the fans like a proverbial millstone around the Yankees’ neck. He was booed in the first after he struck out and again in the fourth when he grounded out. On social media — that bastion of reason — the Yankees’ offense already was being treated as dead and done.

"It was good to get that [grand slam]," Stanton said. "Good to get us going and give us some insurance runs for sure."

He paused, formulating his answer to the second part of the question, the one asking about the boos. "Yeah, I try my best when I’m out there,’’ he said, "so I can’t worry about all of that."

Maybe he’s right not to worry; constant fatalism isn’t doing anyone any favors.

Sure, there’s a reason the fans haven’t taken to Stanton all that much: He has a mammoth contract and hasn’t produced to the level of 13 years, $325 million. He’s also been hurt for two straight seasons.

When he was an everyday player, all the way back in 2018, the 38 home runs he hit were looked at as not enough, a pale reminder of the 59 homers he hit as a Marlin in 2017.

So the frustration of the fans has been reasonable — he was supposed to be the man, yet couldn’t stay in the lineup. But not giving him a chance this early in the season is not reasonable.

Which is too bad, given what Stanton can do when he’s at his best. When he hits home runs, he says he sometimes goes into a total blackout. He doesn’t hear the fans or his teammates, he just tracks the trajectory of the ball, like in a superhero movie, when time slows down just as the action starts.

Have fans already forgotten the six home runs he hit in 26 at-bats in the 2020 postseason?

"The way he hits them, it’s just different," manager Aaron Boone said. "It’s like nothing else. He is a unicorn. That ball was so pure on a night where it’s probably not flying great and he hits it through the Stadium."

In reality, the skepticism of Stanton is just a microcosm of the knee-jerk reaction to the Yankees’ slow start overall. The offense did look inept against the Blue Jays, their division rival, but that’s baseball sometimes. The key isn’t going to be worrying hits into existence, but to stay on an even keel, regardless of what’s going on, Boone said.

It involves a tricky balance of preparation without panic — studying the opposing pitcher, putting in extra time in the cage, but not letting the boos and the self-doubt get the best of you.

"The results will come," Judge said. "It’s when you’re out there trying to chase results, chase homers, chase things, that’s when you spiral out of control and become something that you’re not."

Spiraling is bad, but urgency is good. The thing is, though, you can be urgent only about what’s exactly in front of you, not what happened yesterday and not something that could happen three months from now.

"The best teams still lose a fair amount of games," Boone said. "You’ve got to be able to keep those blinders on and pour everything you have into each and every day and show up with an energy and with an urgency every single day, but once it’s over, you’ve got to leave it behind and go to the next, because the next one is too important."

That’s not as tempting as predicting a meltdown, but it certainly makes a lot more sense. It sure worked out Monday.

New York Sports