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Giancarlo Stanton stood at the plate with a chance to rewrite the narrative of his first year with the New York Yankees. It was the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees were on the brink of postseason elimination and he represented the tying run.
A homer here? He could forget about all those boos after strikeouts in April and May, because the people in Yankee Stadium sure would. A homer here? He’d be a Yankees legend already. He’d be the guy who saved their season when it looked like the Boston Red Sox were about to send the Yankees packing in the American League Division Series.
Boston closer Craig Kimbrel had looked erratic thus far. Stanton, who hadn’t had much luck against Kimbrel in his career, had a chance to rewrite that too. The Yankees were down 4-1 and Aaron Judge had started the inning with a walk. Didi Gregorius followed with a single. All of a sudden, the Yankees had a swinging chance. And Stanton was certainly a guy who could hit one out of Yankee Stadium. Stanton hit 38 homers in 2018, 20 of them coming at home. This was possible.
First pitch? Called strike. Second pitch? Whiff. Third pitch? Ball. He wasn’t chasing that.
According to Fangraphs’ leverage numbers, which parse what MLB hitters do in high-leverage situations, Stanton wasn’t hitting like a reigning MVP in 2018’s most pressure-filled moment. We’re talking a .197 average, 21 strikeouts against 13 hits. This moment certainly qualified as “high leverage.”
So when the fourth pitch came from Kimbrel? Whiff. Strike three. Back to the dugout. Boos raining upon him. A few minutes later, the Yankees’ season was over.
“You gotta put the ball in play,” he would tell reporters after the game. “We’re all gonna come together and use this for fuel for next year.”
In the postseason, the difference between good teams that advance and good teams that go home is execution. Specifically in moments like this one. And for Stanton, it wasn’t just a whiff in a high-leverage situation, it was emblematic of his series against the Red Sox and, in some cases, his first season in New York.
Stanton homered in the Yankees’ AL wild-card game against the Oakland Athletics, which was the first postseason game of his career. That was a good start. He’s proven throughout his career to be a streaky player — when he’s hot, he can hit homers in bunches. When he’s cold, you don’t need ice cubes.
The wild-card homer, the Yankees had to hope, was the start of a tear. Turned out, it was the only extra-base hit and RBI he’d get in the postseason. His line in four games against the Red Sox was particularly rough:
• 4-for-18, zero RBIs, zero homers, six strikeouts, two runs scored, zero walks
That won’t endear him to a Yankees fan base that was quick to boo Stanton this season almost immediately. The three- and four-strikeout games brought out the boo birds even in the early months. And, like clockwork, the judgment was swift and predictable after Game 4. He was trending on Twitter for hours after the game. And not from people sending well wishes.
Among the comments:
“Stanton gotta go.”
“I think the Marlins might have won the Giancarlo Stanton trade.”
“Please shoot Stanton into the sun.”
Finishing with nearly 40 homers and 100 RBIs isn’t a shameful season by any stretch of the imagination, but we’re not talking about a city that nods at your counting stats and moves on.
It wants to see the production. Especially in October.
New York City is a place where you’re judged in those big moments — ask A-Rod, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera or any of the Yankees greats that came before the current regime.
You succeed in those big moments? They’ll love you forever.
You whiff? You better believe they’ll remember it next season.
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