The stage was set for a battle of the heavyweights on Monday night at Truist Park.
The Yankees and Braves, each having won nine consecutive games, were due for a historic matchup; it was the first time in nearly 120 years that two teams riding win streaks of that length faced off against one another. Only one club would be able to emerge from the high-stakes contest with that streak intact.
On the back of perhaps the biggest heavyweight on their roster, that team was the Yankees. After putting New York on the board first with a solo home run in the second inning, Giancarlo Stanton ripped a 119.2 mph go-ahead two-run double to left field -- the hardest-hit ball in Truist Park history -- in the sixth to deliver a 5-1 win in the opener of the two-game series in Atlanta.
“He’s a unicorn,” said manager Aaron Boone. “He does things every night that are a little bit different than anyone else. … Every time he hits a ball, like a ground ball that you see an infielder maybe think he’s got a beat on -- they tend to get through, because they’re hit a little bit harder than you think.
“Everyone gets a kick out of going to the board -- ‘How hard did he hit it?’ A lot of times you miss it -- ‘What was that one?’”
“It’s usually, ‘Is that all I got?’ or cracking about it or something,” added Stanton. “So yeah, we have fun with it.”
The Yankees have now won 10 consecutive games for the 31st time in franchise history, which is the most of any American League club. They last accomplished the feat from Sept. 9-19, 2020.
And they made it happen with what has become a familiar formula for them over the past week and a half. Thanks to Gary Sánchez’s two-run single in the eighth, New York has now scored at least five runs in eight of those 10 games. And after Jonathan Loáisiga, Wandy Peralta and Aroldis Chapman added four scoreless frames in relief, Yankees pitchers have held opponents to three runs or fewer in eight of those 10 victories.
“What’s been nice about it is, it’s been the entire roster,” Boone said. “All 26 guys in there are playing important roles in this and having big hands in us winning ballgames. And that’s a fun thing to be a part of.
“Knowing that guy 1 through 26 is going to be counted on, and chances are maybe in a big spot … I feel like guys are locked in with that mindset of, ‘What can I do to help us win a ballgame today?'”
Entering Monday’s contest, the Yankees and Braves had posted comparable offensive numbers in August, leading to their respective stretches of success. New York went 17-4 while averaging 5.5 runs per game, tallying a plus-45 run differential and compiling a starters’ ERA of 3.22. Meanwhile, Atlanta went 16-3 with 5.7 runs per game, a plus-42 run differential and a 3.02 starters’ ERA.
While Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff -- walking a season-high-tying four Braves -- he did enough to best Atlanta starter Huascar Ynoa. Though Ynoa struck out nine across six strong innings, Montgomery tossed five innings of one-run ball on just two hits.
Then in the third, Judge covered 87 feet in center to contain a ball on the warning track without even needing to leave his feet. The pair of gems led Boone to quip, “It’s nice to see the jumbo package out there really playing well.”
Stanton took care of the rest on the offensive front with his multihit night, and he only needed five and a half innings to do it. Boone made a double switch in the bottom of the sixth when he brought in Loáisiga, knowing that Stanton had just delivered the lead and that his spot in the lineup likely would only come up one more time. If the skipper needed another big at-bat, he could look no further than newly minted AL Player of the Week Luke Voit to come in as a pinch-hitter.
That’s the way it’s been for the Yankees over the course of their winning streak. They are a team with no shortage of options right now.
“Winning’s hard in this league,” Boone said. “So there’s nothing better than a lot of people pouring a lot into hopefully shaking hands at the end of the night. That’s the focus and the goal. We’ve won some ugly at times, and you take those; sometimes you feel really good about those when it’s not easy. But there’s no question that when you’re playing clean baseball, and again, when everybody on the roster is playing an important role -- that’s made it nice.”
As Stanton put it, the refrain has become, “Who’s gonna do it each night?”
Because as far as the Yankees are concerned, everybody can -- and seemingly everybody has. And if they haven’t yet, it might be them who keeps the streak alive next.