With the Yankees locked in a pitchers' duel with the Nationals for the second consecutive game, each swing of the bat was more important than the last on Sunday. None, however, mattered more than Giancarlo Stanton’s in the bottom of the ninth.
After leadoff walks drawn by Tyler Wade and pinch-hitter Aaron Judge, then a DJ LeMahieu groundout to put runners on the corners, Stanton hit a sharp grounder through the left side of the infield, delivering a 3-2 walk-off win in the series finale on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
Stanton had not managed a hit all series long, but his breakthrough could not have come at a more timely moment for the Yankees -- who won in walk-off fashion in back-to-back games.
“These are great games to feed off, battles back and forth,” Stanton said. “Any way you can squeeze out a win and build that momentum [matters]. When you win games that are down to the wire, it’s big. It’s big for everybody. The way you find wins and the way you scrape them out, it pays off.”
With the victory, the Yankees finished their homestand with a 7-2 record -- having won all three series against the Tigers, Astros and Nats -- which made them undefeated in their past six series (4-0-2) after losing four of their first five of the season.
That type of momentum swing comes as no surprise to manager Aaron Boone, who has maintained that the Yankees were far better than their early-season struggles indicated.
“It’s been tough here, but these guys keep grinding away and finding a way to win ballgames,” Boone said. “It’s not always going to be easy, you’re not always just going to have your way with a team, but you’re going to have to win these tough ones every now and then to be a little bit of a separator as a club. So [it was] good to see us get back-to-back wins where it wasn’t perfect.”
Stanton has played a major role in that turnaround, entering the series against Washington on a Major League-leading 12-game hitting streak while slashing .481/.509/.904 with a 1.413 OPS in that span. Though he had to battle through a dry spell -- going 0-10 with three walks leading up to his walk-off hit -- he remained confident even as the Nationals were “pitching really carefully to him,” as Boone put it.
One of those missed opportunities came earlier on Sunday, as Stanton was at the plate with two on and one out in the bottom of the seventh -- the half-inning after starter Domingo Germán allowed a game-tying two-run homer to Kyle Schwarber. Stanton grounded into a double play in that instance, and he was adamant about not letting it happen again in the ninth.
“It’s big time; I love those moments,” Stanton said. “I had one earlier in the game that I didn’t capitalize on. It’s not too often you get two opportunities in the same game, but you definitely better get the second one if you don’t get the first.”
Torres stood at home plate, holding his pink Mother’s Day bat high above his head and admired his long drive fly 411 feet to left-center field. It was a no-doubter, reaching the Yankee Stadium seats at an exit velocity of 109 mph, and as he trotted around the bases, he couldn’t help but smile.
The blast snapped Torres’ career-long 39-game regular-season homerless streak, and it marked his first home run in 148 at-bats dating back to Sept. 17 of last season.
Rather than thinking about how he got the monkey off his back, Torres thought of his mother, for whom he said he hit the home run after the game. He explained that he has had a knack for playing well on Mother’s Day throughout his career, and it’s not hard to see why.
“Before I leave the house, I tell her, ‘[I’ll] do something great for you,’ Torres said. “So it’s coming to the ballpark with that mentality -- when I do that, some good things happen. I’m just so happy to hit one for my mom, and I’m so excited to help my team in that situation.”
Torres said that he hadn’t yet spoken to his mother, who is waiting for him in St. Petersburg. That’s where the Yankees will go next, looking to reverse their fortunes against the Rays this season in a series that begins on Tuesday. The Yanks are aware of their 1-5 record against their American League East rivals, but coming off this homestand, they are in a much better place than they were in their previous meetings.
“Well, I just think we’re continuing to play better,” Boone said. “I keep saying I don’t think we’re all the way there. Certainly, offensively, I know there’s more in there for us and we’re going to stride. But there’s no question we’re -- in every aspect of the game -- playing a lot better baseball, playing more winning baseball, and that’s what we have to continue to build on.”