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Stanton cements place in Yankees pantheon with dramatic slam

SAN DIEGO — All-Star slugger Giancarlo Stanton might have finally endeared himself to New York Yankees fans by having a signature postseason moment.

Stanton lived up to his former National League MVP pedigree on Monday, hitting the first postseason grand slam of his career in the Yankees’ 9-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

“That was big, to come out how we did. It was huge,” Stanton said. “That was really cool. I can’t deny that. The spot I helped put the team in, don’t want to take your foot off the gas. Up by [two] compared to by six is a huge difference.”

There is no doubt that the 27-time World Series champions, the winningest franchise in baseball, are a club built for the postseason. Donning pinstripes in October comes with enormous expectations.

Stanton’s ninth-inning home run made him the first Yankees designated hitter to smack a grand slam in a postseason game. Stanton is the third Yankee to homer in the club’s first three games of a postseason, joining Aaron Judge in 2018 and Hank Bauer in 1958.

The Yankees became the first team in AL history to hit grand slams in back-to-back postseason games. Third baseman Gio Urshela homered with the bases loaded in Game 2 of the Yankees’ wild-card sweep of the Cleveland Indians. The Yankees have hit 11 home runs in their first three playoff games this postseason, a new major league record.

“They can hit. There is no secret in that,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said of the Yankees. “That was nothing that was unexpected with them. They got some guys back that are healthier. There were a handful of players who didn’t have consistent reps against us or throughout the 60-game season for injury reasons. They looked healthy tonight.”

Stanton’s career in pinstripes has been marred by injuries and frustration, which has made him persona non grata for Yankees fans since he was acquired from the Miami Marlins before the 2018 season. He was limited to 18 games last season because of myriad injuries, and he played in 23 of 60 games in this year’s pandemic-shortened regular season while battling leg injuries.

Nonetheless, Stanton seems to have regained his stroke this postseason, going 2-for-7 with two HRs in the wild-card round.

“He’s struggled just because he hasn’t been healthy,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I feel great for him. This is what I envisioned for him last year. I felt he was in such a good place [when he came off the IL at end of the season], and now he’s carrying it into the postseason. He’s such a dangerous hitter in the middle of the lineup. When he’s controlling the strike zone, he’s as deadly as anyone.”

Before the start of the ALDS, Stanton talked about not only showing things on paper, “but be out there and do it.” And so he did, hitting his eighth career grand slam and first since Sept. 20, 2018, against the Boston Red Sox.

“I grew up about an hour and a half, two hours away, so I usually have my family here and friends, so that’s always a good boost,” said the Southern California native, the Yankees player most familiar with Petco Park after his eight seasons in the NL. “And it’s the first game that my parents were able to come to, so that was huge. My dad for sure doesn’t miss more than a month [of the season] at a time, let alone … we’re in October now.”

In 19 career games at Petco Park, where he won the 2016 Home Run Derby, Stanton has hit .323 with eight homers and a 1.190 OPS.

When asked about his success at the plate so far this postseason, Stanton said he doesn’t believe he has accomplished anything yet.

“That was big-time. That was definitely really needed today, but I’m not really looking at it that way,” Stanton said. “I haven’t done anything. We’ve got more to do tomorrow and the next day, so I’m enjoying this for a little bit. But at the same time, we’ve got work to do.”

Boone agreed.

“It’s one game. We’ve got to win three,” the manager added. “We know [the Rays are] a great team and a great opponent. We know we have to play our best to beat them. We have to win two more, and that’s going to be a challenge.”

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