NEW YORK — Two weeks ago, he was Jose Altuve in pinstripes.
Giancarlo Stanton was booed. Mocked. Vilified.
He was the man every New York Yankees fan loved to hate and wanted out of town.
Well, here we are Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, and the big fella is being worshipped, showing just why the Yankees traded for him in the first place, and the monstrous $265 million remaining in his contract.
Oh, what a torrid stretch can do for an image.
We hated you then.
But, oh, how we love you now.
Stanton, in his hottest streak since coming to the Yankees three years ago, is back to being one of the game’s most feared hitters, carrying New York to its fifth consecutive victory with a 6-3 victory over the Houston Astros.
It was the Yankees’ 10th victory in the last 13 games, and after all the gloom and doom, they now are breathing down the necks of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East with a 16-14 record.
No one is more responsible than Stanton.
Stanton, with a go-ahead two-run homer in the third inning, a game-tying double in the fifth and an insurance run-scoring single in the eighth, has put the Yankees on his back while telling his teammates to hang on for the ride.
Stanton, putting together his longest hitting streak since 2014, is hitting .500 with a .896 slugging percentage, including four doubles, five homers and 10 RBI during the past 11 games. He has at least three hits in five of his last six games.
Just like that, the batting average has soared from .158, when he was a poster child of all the Yankees’ woes, to .314 with a team-leading seven homers and 22 RBI, where he now is hearing “MVP’’ chants.
“Luckily, it turned pretty quick,’’ Stanton said. “I feel great. I can’t tell you if it’s the best (streak) ever, but I’m just glad I’m here.’’
The Yankees will tell you they saw it coming. They saw the work ethic, the desire to be great, the disciplined approach.
Maybe no one else believed it, but they were convinced that Stanton would return to prominence.
“He’s a special person and talent,’’ Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I just feel like it has been coming. He’s a great player. He’s a great hitter. He’s just so incredibly disciplined.
“He’s letting the body go out and cash the checks.’’
Well, Stanton is healthy this year, confident, and looking a whole lot more like the guy who won the 2017 National League MVP Award with 59 homers for the Miami Marlins.
“I mean, he hits the crap out of the ball every time," said leadoff hitter DJ LeMahieu, with Stanton batting second. “I’m just trying to get on base. So, if I can just get on base, I feel like pretty good things are happening right now.’’
Said Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery: “He’s a game-changer. He’s on a tear right now. He’s definitely a force to be reckoned with.’’
Boone is seeing a different Stanton, too, simply the way he approaches each game, each at-bat, each pitch.
“I just think he’s advanced in everything he does as far as, first his approach, his understanding of what teams are trying to do," Boone said. “I feel like the game plan he formulates is strong and he’s committed to it. I just love his mindset, his preparation, his game plan, his process. …
“Obviously, he’s got an MVP on his mantel, but since he’s been here I just feel like he’s grown so much mentally as a hitter.’’
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Stanton has played this game too long to know there won’t be some tough times again. There will be some slumps. Yet, perhaps for the first time, he’s being embraced, with Yankees fans knowing he’s the one who can take them where they haven’t gone since 2009 - winning the World Series.
“Obviously, I had to make an adjustment,’’ said Stanton, who’s averaging a major league-leading 99 mph exit velocity. “Sooner or later, if you stick to it, it's going to pan out. It's already a failure-first sport, so it's just sticking with something and making slight adjustments with that. ...
“Some stretches you do better than others. I’m in a pretty good one right now. I’ve just got to keep it rolling.”
The Yankees, in turn, now look like the power everyone envisioned when the season started. Their offense is rolling. Their pitching, with a 3.02 ERA, ranks best in the American League. And they’re starting to ooze with confidence.
“We weren’t going to play like (we did) the beginning of the season forever,” Stanton said.
It hardly resembles the same team that was 6-11 and in last place before Stanton took over, with Yankees fans enjoying the renaissance, and in particular, the fact that their victories are coming against the Astros.
The crowd, perhaps exhausted, or simply needing a night off to soothe their sore throats, couldn’t sustain the venom of Tuesday, but still managed to taunt the Astros sporadically throughout the evening with the familiar, “(Expletive) Altuve’’ chants.
“The fans were as loud as 20% capacity could possibly be,’’ Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka said. “It was actually pretty impressive. I thought that level of sound was on par with probably the last playoff game that I experienced here (in 2019), which was pretty intense. I was pretty grateful that the fans showed up and were that energetic.”
It was so loud, Higashioka said, that he told teammate Aaron Judge that if the stadium was filled, “I might not have my hearing today.’’
Still, the non-sellout crowd of 9,895 thoroughly enjoyed their evening, with one fan walking up and down the aisles with a sign reading: “I came 2,205 miles from Costa Rica to boo the Astros.’’
Now, for the Yankees to pull off the sweep Thursday afternoon, they’ll be relying on the one man in their clubhouse who doesn’t hate the Astros.
Come to think of it, starter Gerrit Cole might be the only one in all of New York City who still isn’t peeved over the Astros’ 2017 cheating scandal.
Cole wasn’t on that 2017 team but was an Astro for two years where he developed into one of the greatest pitchers in the game, and in turn became the richest pitcher ($324 million) in baseball history.
Hate the Astros?
Sorry, he can’t do it.
“It was a really special time in my career,” Cole said. “I was adopted so quickly into the clubhouse. The team was super fun to be around from Day 1. I think the level of focus from the 25th man all the way to the top with Jose (Altuve) is something that you see in organizations that have prolonged winning, the attention to detail, the competitive edge, the competitive fire.
"I could go on and on about some of the characteristics of the club, but when it’s all said and done, the play on the field speaks for itself and they’ve been remarkably consistent over a long period of time.”
Sorry, but the Yankees and their fans are in no mood to hear about the Astros’ achievements. Maybe one day. Perhaps it will take years. For now, the pain is still too fresh.
“The fans have their emotions that they need to express,’’ Cole said. “I think as players, our job is to try to do our job the best we can and not listen to the crowd, whether it be good or bad. The environment’s hostile, emotional. I don’t expect that to change.
“In a sense, it is what it is.’’
A sweep in the Bronx won’t erase their anguish from 2017. That was then. This is now. But given the intensity of the series, and the emotion from their fans, it will at least be a moment of satisfaction.
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Yankees' Giancarlo Stanton powers another win over Astros