Friday, April 20, 2018

Giancarlo Stanton forced to face the music in Yankees' blowout loss to Red Sox

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SportsPulse: Shohei Ohtani has been the star of the early season, while the Dodgers have sputtered out of the gate.
USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON — New York Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton was in the trainer’s room for nearly an hour Tuesday night after his team’s ugly 14-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox. Once he finally emerged, Stanton ducked into the back room to grab a snack.

He looked around, and most of his teammates were already dressed and gone for the night.

He was hoping to take a quick shower and head back to the hotel peacefully himself.

Uh-uh.

Stanton was informed there was a roomful of reporters who still wanted to talk to him.

He couldn’t believe it. He barely had anything to do with the Yankees’ worst loss to the Red Sox in nine years. He struck out his first two at-bats on just seven pitches against Red Sox ace Chris Sale, but he also got a single off him and a double off left-handed reliever Brian Johnson.

Stanton may have been playing left field for the first time with the Green Monster behind him at Fenway Park, but he never had a fly ball hit to him. And in the fateful sixth inning, when the Red Sox scored nine runs — the most they scored off the Yankees in a single inning in 20 years — the only ball hit his way was Mookie Betts’ grand slam, which was hit over his head.

Yet, there he was, the center of attention, when all he wanted was to quietly go home.

So, he walked out into the middle of the Fenway’s cramped visiting clubhouse and, with a cookie in his hand, was encircled by 25 reporters, and took 2 minutes and 45 seconds worth of questions.

Toto, you sure ain’t in Miami anymore.

“Yeah, that’s OK, I’ll be all right,’’ Stanton said softly at his locker, watching the room empty. “I can deal with it. I know I can.’’

Welcome to life in New York, where it may be only April 12, far too early for anyone to panic or draw conclusions, but in the city that never sleeps, it can get late awfully early.

The Yankees, heavily favored to win the AL East this season, thanks largely to Stanton’s arrival, already find themselves 4½ games out of first place behind the Red Sox after being body-slammed at Fenway.

Stanton could have hit a pair of grand slams and a two-run homer, and it wouldn’t have affected the outcome, but he’s the easiest and certainly biggest target.

He’ll get the blame when they lose, accolades when they win, and there’s nothing in the world he can do about it.

And when you happen to be hitting .196 with 22 strikeouts in 46 at-bats, you’ve got a target on your back larger than the Empire State Building.

“Everybody goes through adversity,’’ said Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge, who finished runner-up in the AL MVP race last year. “You never know when it’s going to happen, but it happens. It’s baseball.

“This won’t faze him. He’s going to grind out at-bats. He’s never going to give up. He’s never going to worry about what happened in the last game. He’s here in the present and he’s going to go out and do his thing.’’

It’s just that life was a whole lot easier in Miami, where Stanton never had a winning season with the Marlins, and now going to a place where anything less than a World Series championship is a failure.

It’s why some of Stanton’s former teammates worried when he went to New York, knowing that he’s a quiet, pensive man who never seeks the limelight. He would prefer to be as obscure as a Manhattan hot dog vendor.

Yet, anonymity is not possible anymore.

Not when he and Judge are the faces of the organization.

Not when he’s the highest-paid player on the team.

And not when he’s the reigning NL MVP.

This, after all, is New York.

“When you go to a place like that, as a player, you know this is what you signed up for,’’ said Los Angeles Angels outfielder Chris Young, who played for the Yankees and Red Sox. “But you’re judged by how much you’re making. If you’re making $300 million, anything short of a Cy Young or MVP is a bad season.

“I’m sure (NBA stars) LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry deal with the same type of thing, so it comes with the territory.

“But it doesn’t make it any easier when you’re trying to still be the same positive person you’ve always been, and you get nothing but negative in return.’’

Yet, this is what Stanton desired, accepting a trade to the Yankees when he could have exercised his no-trade provision and gone off to the less stressful pastures of St. Louis or San Francisco, which previously worked out trades with the Marlins only for Stanton to veto.

If he was hitting a buck-96 right now in St. Louis, the Cardinals’ devoted legion of fans still would be giving him standing ovations every time he stepped to the plate.

If he struck out in nearly half of his at-bats in San Francisco, striking out five times already in two of their first 10 games, Giants’ fans would be too busy eating garlic fries to even pay attention.

But even in a game where Stanton had no impact, he was still left to explain his performance in a game that manager Aaron Boone called “a crappy night all of the way around.’’

“I saw the ball better,’’ Stanton said. “It was good progress. Hopefully I can pick up where I left off today and keep going.’’

What changed?

“Just watched film,’’ Stanton said, “settled down, trying not too hard, trying not to do too much, and not let self-conscious (doubts) creep in, no matter what. Get a good pitch to hit and don’t worry about the outside noise.

“I just felt like there was a lot going on, focusing on too many things.’’

Well, the only outside noise this night was the boos reigning on him from the 32,357 at Fenway, which felt a whole lot better than those boos generating from his own fans at Yankee Stadium.

“It was cool,’’ Stanton said. “Not a cool outcome, but it was cool to see the passion and what goes on.’’

Stanton insists he’s staying calm in this storm. He reminded reporters that he’s been a slow starter plenty of times in his career. Two years ago, he was hitting .193 with 24 strikeouts in 57 at-bats in his first 15 games. He had just three homers and 19 strikeouts in his first 14 games last year, only to finish with major-league leading 59 homers and 132 RBI.

The Yankees will tell you it’s only a matter of Stanton getting his timing down, and Boone scoffed at the idea before Tuesday’s game of dropping him down in the batting order.

“I think that’s too early,’’ Boone says. “For a guy like Giancarlo, he’s going to have weeks where he gets a little out of whack and it doesn’t endemically look great. But I think once he finds that feeling, and strings a couple of at-bats together, look out.

“I think that’s when he takes off.

“In the grand scheme of things, I’m not worried about it.’’

Besides, Boone has got plenty of the other concerns, watching his team lose four of its last five games, with ace Luis Severino tagged with his first loss, giving up eight hits and five earned runs in five innings.

“You’re going to get it handed to you every now and then,’’ Boone said. “There will be weeks when it doesn’t go our way. There’s no excuses. No sulking. We’ll continue to fight the fight, and know that eventually we’ll get it going.

“When you take your lumps, you’ve still got to continue to fight.’’

Who knows, maybe they can learn that perseverance from Stanton, too.

 “I had a bad week, but the season’s much longer than a week,’’ Stanton says. “A couple of good games, and I can turn it around and help us win.”

Considering the Yankees’ early-season struggles, and the weight of lofty expectations, there may be no time like the present.

Right about now they could certainly use the big fella.

New York eagerly awaits.

Follow Nightengale on Facebook and Twitter at @Bnightengale.

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