Yankees' Giancarlo Stanton Continues Postseason Power Surge With Grand Slam

Max Goodman

With a two-run lead in the top of the ninth inning on Monday night, and closer Aroldis Chapman looming in the Yankees' bullpen, designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton stepped into the box with the bases loaded.

His goal was to put the ball in the air, sending a fly ball deep enough to bring an additional insurance run home from third.

Instead, Stanton clobbered a 2-2 hanging slider from Tampa Bay Rays' right-hander John Curtiss, sending the baseball soaring 411 feet to straightaway center field and over the wall for a grand slam.

The blast put the Rays away, giving the Yankees a 9-3 lead. That wound up as the final score in Game 1 of the ALDS.

"That was really cool, I can't deny that," Stanton said after the series-opening victory. "Really just the spot I helped put the team in. You get to not take your foot off the gas ... up by [two] compared to five is a huge difference, so just a relief."

As the ball smacked off his bat at 107.9 mph, Stanton stood with his lumber raised above his shoulders, watching the ball darted toward the center-field wall. 

The slugger has had success at Petco Park before. As a member of the Miami Marlins, Stanton won the Home Run Derby in 2016 before helping the United States advance in the World Baseball Classic at this ballpark the following year, a tournament the USA would go on to win.

Stanton explained that while he was enjoying the moment on Monday, contributing for his team in a big postseason moment, he also had to make sure the fly ball had enough juice behind it to slice through San Diego's marine layer.

Considering the 30-year-old grew up just under two hours away from the home of the Padres in Southern California, he's been to this ballpark plenty of times, accustomed to how the ball plays on a summer evening by the water. Beyond that, some familiar faces in the stands helped lift the ball over the fence as well.

"I knew as a sac fly either way but had to make sure," Stanton said. "I usually have my family here and friends so that's always a good boost and first game that my parents were able to come to [this season] so that helped."

Stanton had hit .235 (8-for-34) with two home runs in the postseason over his first two seasons in pinstripes. In his first three games of the playoffs this year, Stanton has homered in each game, driving in seven runs and hitting .272 (3-for-11) with four runs scored.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone explained that while Stanton hasn't seen the results in the playoffs before to this extent, this isn't the first time he's witnessed the slugger put together quality at-bats in October.

"I feel like I've seen this focus in him going back to last year when he was just decimated with the different injuries so it cost him so much of the season," Boone said. "And in that same process-driven focus, he's carrying it out into his at-bat quality. When he has quality at-bats, there's no one like him from the way he can center the ball so I'm just proud of where he's at with all he's been through that. He knows how to lock in."

The excitement of Stanton's success extended to his teammates in the visitor's dugout as well.

"I think that was the first time I've screamed for somebody else," said left fielder Clint Frazier, who also went yard in the win. "I was excited for him. He's had a really big moment in the last couple games we've had each game and it's been really key for us because we know what he can do it's just a matter of doing it from now on."

Stanton has noticed the quality of his at-bats increase across the board as well. 

Remember, in his nine games after returning from over a month on the injured list with a hamstring strain, Stanton hit just .200 (7-for-35) with 16 strikeouts. Four of those hits came in one game.

He's emphatically turned it around at the plate now that the regular season has come to a close.

"I'm having good at bats. That's what it's about, just wear these pitchers down," Stanton explained. "And it'll click eventually. The better you have at-bats and move it down the line, if they don't give you something then you take a walk or you keep it moving."

As Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu and the big bats in New York's deep lineup continue to swing a hot bat this postseason—as this club's offense has scored 31 runs through three games against talented pitching staffs—Stanton's presence in the cleanup spot makes this order even scarier for opposing arms. 

"He's such a dangerous hitter in the middle of our lineup," Boone said. "When he's when he's controlling the strike zone on he's as deadly as anyone."

Asked how much Monday's clutch home run meant to him, after years of vocalizing his frustration toward his past postseason performances, Stanton gushed, but recognized there's still plenty of work to do.

"That was definitely what we needed today, but I'm not really looking at it that way. After this interview, after I shower, 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 got work to do."

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