BOSTON — The decision of the day at Fenway Park came when Alex Cora, Red Sox skipper, turned to his lefty reliever Darwinzon Hernandez to go after the Yankees’ Anthony Rizzo, the Yankees down by one, two men on and two outs in the eighth inning.
Giancarlo Stanton, standing on deck, internally broadcast his analysis of the move:
“They better get him out.”
They didn’t. Stanton, apparently the Tony Romo of talking to one self, made Boston pay with, simply enough, his biggest hit as a Yankee and the biggest hit of this Yankees season. The narrative of this guy being a Brian Cashman blunder seems as far away as Stanton’s 452-foot grand slam was from home plate as it sailed onto Lansdowne Street.
Yes, Stanton’s moonshot catapulted the Yankees to a thrilling, 5-3 victory over the Sawx on Saturday evening, pulling the rivals even at 88-67 for the American League’s top wild-card slot. The Yankees’ fifth straight win goes down as their best of the year, the second straight day they could say that.
“It’s a great feeling,” Stanton said. “A lot of emotions going on. I’m just glad I was able to do it, compress everything and be on time for the fastball and something good happened.”
“It was incredible,” Nestor Cortes Jr. said.
What a revival for Stanton and his team. What a rebuke to those who thought the behemoth, injured so often the prior two seasons and strikeout-prone always, lacked the temerity and/or the durability to play such a vital role with this club.
“I just think he’s done a great job in not only preparing baseball-wise, carrying out an offensive game plan,” Aaron Boone said, “but I think he’s done a great job of preserving himself physically and making sure he’s able to post as much as he has this year.”
The 31-year-old now has 33 homers and 91 RBIs, joining with Aaron Judge (who made Saturday’s defensive play of the game, robbing Boston’s Bobby Dalbec of a two-run homer with a brilliant, fifth-inning catch) to give the Yankees an elite middle-of-the-lineup duo, the likes of which they haven’t deployed since, arguably, the days of Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield. Seventeen of those blasts and 45 of those RBIs have come just since Aug. 1, so many of them in big spots.
“Just being a little shorter, a little more direct, staying inside the balls better,” Stanton said. “I was making hard contact but staying to the ground, ground-ball singles pretty hard, where now I’m able to get some lift.”
Nothing to date in his Yankees existence, though, has topped the homer and four RBIs he posted on Saturday.
It wasn’t only Stanton who revelled in the possibilities when Hernandez came out of the bullpen.
“You see it coming, right?” Boone said. “When they go to the lefty there, they’re kind of putting their chips in there with getting Rizzo out. We obviously like the matchup with Stanton there if we can get him to the plate.”
Rizzo received a Hernandez pitch to his front knee, loading the bases for Stanton, Hernandez required to keep pitching as per the three-batter rule.
“We were talking about it in the dugout, we had the right guy up,” Cortes said.
Luis Severino, the Yankees’ pitcher of record at that moment, said he was discussing bottom-of-the-eighth strategy with catcher Gary Sanchez when he mentioned, “Stanton’s gonna hit a homer.”
“I’d obviously rather face a lefty than a righty at any time,” Stanton said, and Cora, clearly concerned, ran out to the mound to talk things over with Hernandez. One 94 mph Hernandez fastball later, it was a brand new ballgame and dramatically changed season, with Severino and Aroldis Chapman securing the last six outs.
“We’re now in a better situation than we were [Friday] … so it’s our job to get out of this city in an even better situation tomorrow,” Stanton said, whose voice, lacking heft for much of his time as a Yankee, now carries loud and far, its limits for boldness and perspicacity delightfully unknown to his teammates and fans.