The long day, reduced as it was, began like how the Yankees dreamt it back in December 2017:
It concluded with a recurring nightmare they’ve come to know all too well.
If “Next Man Up” has come to define the Yankees in the Aaron Boone era, Giancarlo Stanton too often has served the role as Last Man Down. A seven-inning doubleheader split Saturday with the Rays at Tropicana Field _ the Yankees winning the opener, 8-4, and dropping the nightcap, 5-3 _ brought plenty of thrills, disappointments and wackiness, yet the most impactful news turned out to be only a little less reliable than the sunrise.
Stanton likely will go on the injured list with a left hamstring issue sustained in the second game, Boone said, and that will mark Stanton’s third visit to the IL in two years — and that counts neither the ailments that limited his participation in last year’s postseason nor the right calf injury that would have sidelined him for 2020 Opening Day if not for the pandemic shutdown. If the Yankees can take solace in the reality that they did just fine last year during Stanton’s extended absences, they can be equally sobered by the fact that Stanton is signed through 2027 and really, really struggles to stay on the field.
“(I’m) hurting for him, period,” Boone said. “I know what he’s done to be here. I know obviously his play speaks for itself. So hopefully it’s something that doesn’t end up keeping him down too long.”
Stanton’s play had been stellar. In Game 1, he blasted a solo, fifth-inning homer, his third, and added a walk and single. He drew a walk in the fourth that led ultimately to his trouble, as the injury happened when he advanced to second base on a wild pitch by Rays pitcher Pete Fairbanks. He heads into inactivity with a 1.038 OPS, a sign that Stanton still can be special when upright, and he bolstered his standing with his bold decision to kneel twice during the pre-game national anthem, his peaceful protest against this country’s systemic racism.
Now the Yankees lose the person and the player again. “He looked really comfortable and now we lost that power hitter,” Gleyber Torres said. “It’s tough.”
Stanton’s fellow behemoth Aaron Judge, who slammed his major-league-leading eighth homer in Game 1 and just missed a game-tying, ninth-inning blast in the second contest, expressed his support and sympathy for Stanton while noting, “We’ve got a stacked team, a lot of guys at the alternate site chomping at the bit for the opportunity. So Stanton’s going to be missed, but there’s a lot of guys waiting for the opportunity.”
The recently demoted Miguel Andujar, with the team in Florida as part of the taxi squad, figures to get the first shot.
Forty-year-old catcher Erik Kratz, who joined the big-league roster Saturday because of Kyle Higashioka’s oblique injury, shared some tales of life at the alternate site in Scranton. The guys there, he said, have been debating whether to call themselves “The JV team” or “Field 2.” I’m more partial to the latter’s specificity; in spring training, Field 2 is where you find the guys on the bubble as the well-paid regulars work out on Field 1.
Former Field 2 guys such as Mike Ford and Gio Urshela, who broke a scoreless tie in the third inning of Game 1 with a two-run homer and two-run double, respectively, have made this Yankees so successful and likeable. Stanton, to the contrary, has made himself an easy target for fan unhappiness due primarily to his injury problems and secondarily to his proneness for striking out. That shouldn’t mitigate what a threat Stanton still can be, what a loss this still is.
Same old story with the Yankees and Stanton. Until proven otherwise with a lengthy run of good health, Stanton has become a guy you enjoy with one half of your brain as you await the next piece of bad news with the other half. It’s a situation that feels, once again, like a glass half-empty.