For eight innings Wednesday night, Giancarlo Stanton was having another night to forget.
Although he had singled in his second at-bat of the night, he had also struck out twice with runners on base. The second time it happened, with a runner on first and the Yankees trailing the Seattle Mariners by 5-3 in the seventh inning, the Yankee Stadium crowd reacted more with indifference than vitriol, almost as if the result had been expected.
It seemed, at the time, as though the Yankees had squandered their last real chance to complete a rally in a game in which they had trailed, 5-0, at the halfway point.
But then came a game-tying, two-run homer by Gary Sanchez in the bottom of the eighth, and an inning later Stanton found himself once again in a position to make exactly the type of play the Yankees had envisioned him making when they acquired him this off-season.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth and an 0-2 count, Stanton, the winner of the 2017 National League Most Valuable Player Award, jumped on a hanging slider from Mariners reliever Ryan Cook and rocketed it into an advertisement board 453 feet away, at the back of the visitors’ bullpen beyond left-center field.
“That ball was absolutely scalded,” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said.
It was Stanton’s first walkoff home run as a Yankee, and his first since 2014. Perhaps more important, it gave him his first Gatorade bath in front of a home crowd that has been lukewarm toward him through his first two and a half months playing at Yankee Stadium.
“I’m not worried about me personally,” Stanton said. “For the way our team battled back, it’s huge I could step up in that moment. Me, I’ll be fine.”
Until Sanchez’s home run — his 14th of the season — there had plenty of places for fingers to point for a potential loss: At starting pitcher Jonathan Loaisiga, whose second big-league start was decidedly less impressive than his first; at Chasen Shreve, who failed to accomplish his one mission, to retire left-handed hitting Dee Gordon, instead yielding a two-run single in the fourth; and at Boone himself, who pulled Loaisiga after just 84 pitches, and immediately following an impressive strikeout of Mike Zunino, to replace him with Shreve.
But the Yankees kept chipping away at Felix Hernandez, who has not lived up to his typical standards this season. The Yankees scored twice in the fifth on a two-run single by Aaron Judge (one of the runs was unearned, when Seattle left fielder Denard Span allowed the ball to scoot under his glove) and another in the seventh on a sacrifice fly by Didi Gregorius just before Stanton’s second strikeout.
There was little reason to believe that Stanton, who came into the game batting just .213 at home with a .699 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, and .217 with a .687 O.P.S. against right-handed pitchers, would fare better against Cook, a right-hander who had struck out 13 batters in eight and two-thirds innings.
“When Giancarlo hits that ball you start celebrating at home plate,” Boone said. “You just know it’s going to hit something hard beyond the center field fence.”
Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ principal owner, issued a statement regarding the death on Monday of Billy Connors, a three-time Yankees pitching coach from 1989 to 2000 and the man credited with helping Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte develop their cutters:
“The Yankees organization mourns the passing of Billy Connors, who was a close and trusted friend of my family for many years. Since joining the Yankees at the conclusion of the 1988 season, Billy contributed to the organization in countless ways over his long career as a pitching coach, executive and adviser. On behalf of the Yankees and the Steinbrenner family, I extend our deepest condolences to Billy’s family, friends and loved ones.”