NEW YORK -- The necessary mechanical changes were so small in nature, Giancarlo Stanton said on Wednesday, that even reviewing frame-by-frame video might not have revealed the issue that existed two weeks ago. Each time a "hit me" fastball sailed past a mighty cut, the Yankees slugger reacted as though someone had drilled a hole in his bat.
That has been corrected, and now every American League pitcher seems to be paying the price. Stanton continued to ride one of his hottest stretches in pinstripes, homering and driving in four runs, while Aaron Hicks delivered a tiebreaking hit as the Yankees defeated the Astros, 6-3, on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.
“I'm doing a great job on mistakes,” Stanton said. “If a pitcher makes a mistake in the middle of the plate, I’m doing some damage on it. That's our job, that's my job. Some stretches you do better than others, but I'm in a pretty good one right now.”
Hicks’ opposite-field single in the eighth inning chased home the deciding run off reliever Brooks Raley as the Yanks rallied for their fifth consecutive win and their seventh in eight games.
The thunder was supplied once again by Stanton, who is batting .500 with five homers and 10 runs scored over an 11-game hitting streak that dates back to April 23 at Cleveland -- the longest active string in the Majors. He has raised his average from .158 to .314 over that span.
“He’s a special person and a talent,” manager Aaron Boone said. “I’ve been saying it for a couple of years: This has been coming. It’s just been about getting him on the field. We saw it in the playoffs last year and after a week or two slow start, the at-bats have just been so good night in and night out.”
Some of the PG-13 venom that spilled out of the grandstands during Tuesday’s series opener seemed to be dampened by the chilly conditions, though the Astros certainly did not receive a warm welcome by any stretch of the imagination. Stanton saw to that, mashing a two-run homer in the third inning off starter Luis Garcia, then adding a run-scoring double in the fifth off Ryne Stanek.
The difference in Stanton’s approach from the first weeks of the season -- when he, not Jose Altuve or Carlos Correa, had become a target of the Yankee Stadium boo-birds -- he said, is that he has stopped releasing his swing early and is remaining more compact. By waiting an extra beat, he said, he is no longer waving through those fat chances.
“Luckily, it turned pretty quick,” he said. “It's tough when you're climbing back from something for a month or two; you just feel like you'll never get out of it. It’s still a long season ahead, so I didn't climb out of anything. I've still got work to do.”
Starter Jordan Montgomery took a no-decision, permitting three runs on eight hits over six innings. All three of Houston’s runs off the left-hander scored in the third inning; with the bases loaded and none out, Correa grounded into a run-scoring fielder’s choice, and Yuli Gurriel followed with a run-scoring double down the left-field line.
Brett Gardner fielded the ball and fired a strike to third baseman Gio Urshela, who popped a throw home to nail Correa at the plate. That preserved the lead for only a few moments; Aledmys Díaz then stroked a run-scoring double to left field that tied the score.
“A lot of things could have gone differently,” Montgomery said. “Gardy made a great play out there, and we got Correa at the plate. Just limiting them to three was huge to keep us in the game.”
Break on through
The Bombers’ league-best bullpen held the line after Montgomery’s exit, with Luis Cessa and Wandy Peralta combining to handle the seventh inning and Jonathan Loaisiga firing pellets in a perfect eighth. Houston turned to Raley in the home half; after being greeted by a Gleyber Torres single, Raley walked pinch-hitter Clint Frazier.
Hicks was next, the switch-hitter going the opposite way with a soft flare that found turf down the right-field line.
“I did what I had to do to get the guy in,” Hicks said. “I was looking for something middle-away, got a changeup up in the zone and was able to keep it in play.”
After a hit-by-pitch, Gardner lifted a sacrifice fly off Joe Smith and Stanton fisted his third hit of the night into right field. That was enough cushion for Aroldis Chapman, who worked a perfect ninth for his seventh save in as many chances.
Thanks in part to his splitter, Chapman has struck out 26 of the 33 batters he has retired this year. Even Stanton said that he’s glad not to have to step in against the closer.
“I’d go back to the dugout like everyone else, probably,” Stanton said. “I don’t think I’ve seen him this locked in before. It’s awesome to watch.”