SAN DIEGO — All-Star slugger Giancarlo Stanton may have finally endeared himself to Yankees fans by having a signature postseason moment.
Stanton lived up to his former National League MVP pedigree Monday night, hitting the first postseason grand slam of his career in the Yankees’ 9-3 win in Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series over the Tampa Bay Rays.
“That was big, to come out how we did, it was huge,” Stanton said. “That was really cool, I can’t deny that. The spot I helped put the team in; don’t want to take your foot off the gas. Up by [two] compared to by six is a huge difference.”
There is no doubt that the 27-time World Series champions, the winningest franchise in baseball, are a club built for the postseason. Donning pinstripes in October comes with enormous expectations.
Stanton’s ninth-inning grand slam made him the first Yankees designated hitter to hit a grand slam in a postseason game, and made the power-hitting left fielder the third Yankee to homer in the club’s first three postseason games, joining Aaron Judge in 2018 and Hank Bauer in 1958.
The Yankees became the first team in American League history to hit grand slams in back-to-back postseason games. Third baseman Gio Urshela also hit a HR with the bases loaded in Game 2 of the Yankees’ wild card sweep of the Cleveland Indians. The Yankees have hit 11 home runs in their first three playoff games this postseason, a new Major League record.
“They can hit, there is no secret in that,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash about the Yankees power offense. “That was nothing that was unexpected with them. They got some guys back that are healthier. There were a handful of players who didn’t have consistent reps against us or throughout the 60-game season for injury reasons; they looked healthy tonight.”
There is no doubt that Stanton’s career in pinstripes has been marred by injuries and frustration, which has made him a persona non grata for Yankees’ fans since he was acquired from Miami before the 2018 season. He was limited to only 18 games last season due to a myriad of injuries, and played in only 23 of 60 games this coronavirus-shortened season, again, battling leg injuries.
Nonetheless, this postseason, Stanton seems to have regained his stroke, going 2-for-7 with two HRs in the Yankees’ two-game sweep of Cleveland in the wild-card round.
“He’s struggled just because he hasn’t been healthy,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I feel great for him; this is what I envisioned for him last year. I felt he was in such a good place [when he came off the IL at end of the season] and now he’s carrying it into the postseason. He’s such a dangerous hitter in the middle of the lineup. When he’s controlling the strike zone, he’s as deadly as anyone.”
Before the start of the ALDS, Stanton talked about not only showing things on paper “but be out there and do it.” And so he did, hitting his 8th career grand slam and his first since Sep 20, 2018 against the Boston Red Sox.
“I grew up about an hour and a half, two hours away, so I usually have my family here and friends so that’s always a good boost. And it’s the first game that my parents were able to come to, so that was huge. My dad for sure doesn’t miss more than a month [of the season] at a time, let alone… we’re in October now” said the Southern California native, who is the Yankees player most familiar with Petco Park after playing eight seasons in the National League.
In 19 career games at Petco Park, where he imposingly won the 2016 Home Run Derby, Stanton has hit .323 with 8 HRs and a 1.190 OPS.
But when asked about his success at the plate so far this postseason, Stanton, as well the rest of the Yankees, do not believe they have accomplished anything yet.
“That was big time. That was definitely really needed today, but I’m not really looking at it that way,” Stanton said. “I haven’t done anything. We’ve got more to do tomorrow and the next day, so I’m enjoying this for a little bit, but at the same time, we’ve got work to do.”
“It’s one game. We’ve got to win three,” Boone added. “We know [the Rays are] a great team and a great opponent. We know we have to play our best to beat them. We have to win two more and that’s going to be a challenge.”