BOSTON — Giancarlo Stanton looked on from the on-deck circle as Red Sox manager Alex Cora hopped out of Boston's dugout to make a pitching change.
With Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo due up—with two outs and two runners on in a one-run game—Cora summoned left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez from the bullpen.
As Rizzo began to prep for his left-on-left matchup with the Red Sox reliever, Stanton was licking his chops.
"They better get him out," the slugger recalled thinking to himself. "They better get Rizzo because I obviously would rather face a lefty than a righty at any time."
By now, you probably know what happened next. Hernandez hit Rizzo on a 3-1 pitch, loading the bases for Stanton, who promptly deposited the first pitch he saw 452 feet to left field, over the Green Monster for a go-ahead grand slam.
The blast, Stanton's 33rd of the season and 17th in the last two months, gave New York a commanding 5-2 lead, a cushion big enough to withstand a solo homer off closer Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning.
Stanton's home run was certainly the story of the night, a moment that stunned a sellout crowd at Fenway Park and helped the Yankees tie Boston for the top spot in the American League Wild Card race. But Stanton wouldn't have had that opportunity if it wasn't for the clutch plate appearances from those in front of him in that inning, along with Cora's managerial mistake.
It started with leadoff man Brett Gardner, facing right-hander Tanner Houck, who had struck out the previous two hitters. After being down 1-2 in the count, Gardner battled back to work a six-pitch walk.
Then, Aaron Judge had a similar plate appearance, battling back from a 2-2 count and working another free pass. Gardner even stole second base during the at-bat, putting more pressure on Houck with such a slim margin for error.
"Just a lot of great at-bats, winning at-bats to set that situation up," manager Aaron Boone said after the game. "It's not always the sexy big hit off the wall or the big homer, it's the little things, little grind out at-bats that put you in that position."
With Houck struggling, Cora made the move to summon Hernandez from the 'pen. Since MLB's three-batter rule is in effect, the left-hander was going to be out there either until he finished the inning or he faced a trio of batters.
"You see it coming right? When they go to the lefty, they're putting their chips in there with getting Rizzo out," Boone said. "You're up there thinking, 'alright Rizz, just work your way on, work your way on and we'll take our shot.'"
Perhaps the outcome is different if Hernandez's 3-1 pitch didn't plunk Rizzo and the count went full, but Stanton certainly wasted no time once it was his turn.
"A lot of really big time at-bats to put us in that situation," Boone added. "G went and capped it off."
There were other options in the 'pen for the Red Sox, including former Yankee Adam Ottavino. Cora could've stuck with Houck as well. While it's easy to look back that choice in hindsight, that decision loomed large with how the rest of the inning transpired.
"We all know what's at stake and we're now in a better situation than we were yesterday and the day before," Stanton said. "So it's our job to get out of this city in an even better situation tomorrow."