It can happen.
Giancarlo Stanton, set to launch his third Yankees postseason on Tuesday, can overcome his history, his streakiness, his physical fragility and any other obstacles that stand in the way of meeting the expectations that accompanied him to The Bronx nearly three years ago.
It can happen because if Alex Rodriguez blew up a similar narrative after a far longer and more arduous journey through the pinstriped griddle, then his fellow Most Valuable Player Stanton can follow A-Rod’s lead.
“There’s no question that there is pressure, and it’s hot in the kitchen because it is New York City. You have the smartest, most demanding fans in sports,” A-Rod told The Post in a telephone interview this weekend. “With that, being a Yankee, like The Boss would always tell us, it’s championship or bust every year.”
Comparing A-Rod to Stanton doesn’t quite represent an apples-to-apples case. Rodriguez, in the middle of a 10-year, $252 million contract when he joined the Yankees in 2004, performed extremely well for the Mariners in the 1997 and 2000 postseasons, although Seattle didn’t advance to the World Series either year. Stanton, in the middle of a 13-year, $325 million contract when he joined the Yankees in 2017, never reached October with the Marlins, his original team.
A-Rod’s first postseason series as a Steinbrenner family employee went swimmingly, as he slashed .421/.476/737 to help the Yankees overcome the Twins in the 2004 American League Division Series. What happened after that, however, essentially erased that brilliance from the court of public opinion’s records.
“I’ve lost years of my life and have gray hairs with ’04,” A-Rod said, referring (naturally) to the Yankees’ ALCS collapse to the Red Sox that year. “There’s not a day of my life that I don’t think about ’04, and it haunts you forever.”
For Stanton, it’s that first real swim in the deep end (putting aside the 2018 AL wild-card game) that has largely come to define him. Against the Red Sox (those guys again) in the ’18 ALDS, the behemoth posted a dreadful .222/.222/.222 slash line, managing just four singles in 18 at-bats while striking out six times as the Yankees went down meekly to their rivals. Last year, to add injury to insult, he posted a considerably better .231/.389/.426, yet that came in just five of the Yankees’ nine playoff games, as he missed the rest (including the season-ending ALCS Game 6 loss to the Astros in Houston) due to a strained right quadriceps.
“There’s not a day of my life that I don’t think about ’04, and it haunts you forever.”
– Alex Rodriguez
“I think every player deals with pressures across the board, whether you’re a young player trying to establish himself. Whether you’re a highly paid star player,” Aaron Boone said Sunday, in response to a question whether the pressure hovering over Stanton served as an obstacle to October success. “This game comes with pressure, and certainly in the postseason.”
A-Rod followed the team’s ‘04 nightmare, during which he contributed one single in 15 at-bats and committed the infamous “Slap play,” with underwhelming performances the subsequent three years as the Yankees lost the ALDS each season. He finally lost his “October choker” label in 2009, when he delivered huge hits in each round — including a pair of game-tying, late-inning home runs — and slashed a ridiculous .365/.500/.808 for the month, homering six times. That capped a season dramatic even for A-Rod’s high standards, as he began it by confessing to past illegal performance-enhancing drug usage and then underwent a serious hip procedure that caused him to miss the first month-plus of that season.
Those adversities, A-Rod says now, liberated him in a way — especially when he was relieved to discover the hip surgery wouldn’t shorten his career — and made his breakout October possible.
“When I came back, I was literally playing with house money,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to go out and contribute. I didn’t need to lift the team. I didn’t need to be great.”
Stanton, who leads a far more vanilla existence than A-Rod, has dealt with comparably pedestrian hurdles, his injuries less livelihood-threatening and his on-field travails not generating massive clicks. Nevertheless, A-Rod sees a parallel between himself and Stanton.
“I think the one thing that is a common denominator [between us] is he’s had some tough injuries,” Rodriguez said. “He’s set up beautifully here in this postseason for three reasons.”
Those reasons, as per A-Rod:
1. Going back to California, Stanton’s home state, for the ALDS and ALCS if the Yankees can defeat the Indians in the wild-card round.
2. The absence of fans, who have been particularly unforgiving of Stanton in The Bronx: “He can get in a zen moment and go off.”
3. “He really has nothing to lose. The year has been a wash because of injuries. He has the opportunity to have one big moment, and he can be a hero forever.”
In his second straight health-challenged season, Stanton put up a strong .250/.387/.500 line while playing in only 23 games. He slashed .200/.300/.400 in nine games back from the injured list (strained left hamstring).
“I thought his first several games when he came back off the IL, he was exactly where he left off,” Boone said. “Really controlling the strike zone. Really quality at-bats. Hard contact. And then he had a few games, mostly in Buffalo there, where I felt like he … struggled. I felt like we saw some encouraging things [Saturday] from him, getting in better counts, obviously smoking the double and having the walk.
“Hopefully, he’s in a place where he can go impact like we know he’s capable of in the postseason.”
As for Stanton, his words last week echoed some of A-Rod’s sentiments: “Just to be out there contributing at all is big for me, for how these past years have been. I’m right there battling with the guys. Where I’ve always wanted to be. I’m happy doing that.”
Think of how happy he, his teammates and Yankees fans can be if that contentment can lead to October excellence. It may not happen, but it can.
New York Post
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