SAN DIEGO – Giancarlo Stanton's second homer Tuesday night left his bat at 118 mph with a ferocious crack. Players on both teams gaped from the dugouts while the three-run shot rocketed a projected 458 feet to the empty patio atop the highest level of outfield seats at Petco Park.
“That was a good swing,” Stanton said with a smile. “I was just glad to put the barrel on it. I didn't really care how far it was going. I knew it was out. That's all I cared about.”
For the first time in three seasons with New York, the Yankees' big-money slugger is putting on a fantastic power display in the playoffs. Stanton has homered in every one of New York’s four postseason games to tie a franchise feat previously accomplished by only Lou Gehrig and Reggie Jackson.
After hitting a grand slam in the opener, Stanton launched two more long balls in Game 2 of the AL Division Series against Tampa Bay, including that massive fourth-inning homer to the highest, deepest reaches of San Diego's ballpark.
“I thought it was going to hit the scoreboard, where that was going,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
The sound was unbelievable in person, and the sight of Stanton's efficient, coiled swing was even more impressive.
But as beautiful as it all was, Stanton's power wasn't enough to stop the Rays from tying the best-of-five series with a 7-5 victory.
Although the 2017 NL MVP became the first Yankees player to homer in four consecutive playoff games in the same postseason — and joined Juan Gonzalez as the only players in big league history with five homers in the first four games of a postseason — the rest of the Bronx Bombers accounted for just three hits against Tyler Glasnow and the Tampa Bay bullpen.
“(The power records) are something you look at after the year is done," Stanton said. "It’s definitely cool, but not a thought right now.”
The Yankees' discontent in the ninth inning focused on plate umpire CB Bucknor's strike zone, including a bizarre strike called on a high pitch to Gleyber Torres.
But most of the damage was done by the Yankees themselves, without Bucknor's help: New York's powerhouse lineup struck out a team-record 18 times, also setting a major league mark for strikeouts in a nine-inning postseason game.
After scoring 31 runs and hitting 11 homers to set two big league records for a team's first three playoff games, that feasting lineup went through a famine. The plate discipline that served New York so well in Game 1 wasn't nearly so much in evidence in the rematch.
“You’re up against as good a strikeout pitcher and team as there is in the league,” Boone said. “To put five runs up there and have an opportunity to do more, there’s going to be challenging nights along the way. But I thought for the most part we gave ourselves some chances with some quality at-bats. Tonight it just resulted in a lot of strikeouts, but the Rays are going to have those even when you’re at your best.”
The Yankees also might have hurt themselves with a surprising organizational decision to use 21-year-old rookie Deivi García as an opener before going to J.A. Happ. García allowed a first-inning homer to Randy Arozarena, and Happ looked shaky in his first appearance since Sept. 25, giving up five hits, three walks and four runs in 2 2/3 innings.
Happ acknowledged he would have preferred to start the game.
“Having said that, and this is important, when I’m in there, you get 100% of me,” Happ added. “So I gave it what I had. I wasn’t worried about when I was coming in at the time. I was focused on executing and trying to pitch.”
The Yankees' missteps in so many other areas prevented Stanton from getting overly excited about his first multi-homer postseason game, the 33rd of his career overall. Limited to 41 games over the past two regular seasons because of injuries, he hadn't accomplished the feat since Sept. 27, 2018, at Tampa Bay.
Stanton hit a 374-foot solo homer down the right-field line in the second inning — off a letter-high curveball, no less — before his majestic three-run shot in the fourth. No power hitter has ever started a playoff run like Stanton: He’s the first player in major league history whose first five hits in a postseason were all homers.
But Stanton struck out swinging in the sixth against Tampa Bay reliever Diego Castillo, who threw a 98 mph sinker followed by back-to-back nasty sliders.
Stanton then hit a 111 mph line drive in the eighth, but Arozarena caught it in left field for the Yankees' third out.
“It’s really encouraging to see him having those types of at-bats,” Boone said. “Looking forward to seeing him go out and do it again tomorrow.”
Although the Yankees gave away their 1-0 series lead, Stanton remains a major problem for the Rays' pitching staff going forward, particularly in these unusual circumstances.
Stanton has spent his big league career playing on the East Coast, but he grew up in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, so he's more than comfortable in Southern California. He has also done plenty of damage down the coast at Petco Park, even before this playoff series.
Stanton entered this neutral-site matchup with eight homers and 15 RBIs in 19 career games at San Diego's beautiful downtown park. His 1.190 career OPS at Petco is his best at any stadium in the majors except Toronto's Rogers Centre.
Stanton also won the Home Run Derby in San Diego during the 2016 All-Star Game festivities, blasting 61 homers over the three rounds in a performance that had local fans shaking their heads. The Marlins slugger hit the 10 longest homers in the competition and finished with an average of 446 feet on his drives, peppering both the brick warehouse beyond the left-field pole and the fans on its balconies and in the bleachers next to it.
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