This was perfect start for Giancarlo Stanton and Yankees

Sometimes, these things can be an illusion on television. A ball looks like it is absolutely clobbered in real time — but on replay, slowed down, you see it was hit south of the trademark, or all the way up to the tip of the barrel. A switch of cameras shows a cannon shot that’s really only a can of corn. That’s what you see. The crowd noise muffles what you hear.


This was no artifice. This was Giancarlo Stanton stepping into a 96-mph fastball from Max Scherzer, who for years has been one of the top four or five pitchers in the entire sport. This was Stanton as we saw him so often in Miami: unburdened by expectation, with a swing at once impossibly easy and frighteningly vicious.

In an instant you knew what you had: You could hear it, for one, because the moment of contact happened to coincide with one of the rare moments of quiet between Alex Rodriguez and Matt Vasgersian, so the CRACK! was unmistakable and irrefutable. You could see Scherzer’s reaction: Before he even turned around he knew he wasn’t going to like where it landed.

And where it landed: That would be 459 feet away from home plate, in a spot of Nationals Park that, even if fans had been welcome, contained a seat that wouldn’t have urged you bring a glove to the park. You don’t get many souvenirs sitting that far from the hitter.

Giancarlo Stanton watches his two-run homer in the first inning of the Yankees' 4-1 rain-shortened win over the Nationals on Thursday night.
Giancarlo Stanton watches his two-run homer in the first inning of the Yankees’ 4-1 rain-shortened win over the Nationals on Thursday night.AP

This is how Giancarlo Stanton greeted the 2020 season, with a two-run blast in the first at-bat of this 60-game sprint. He is thinner than he was the last we saw him in a real game and, more important, healthier. There has never been any doubt about his ability to punish baseballs. When he hits them, they stay hit.

“It’s about as good as you can draw it up, starting the game out that way,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone would say after this rain-shortened 4-1 win over the Nationals. “For G to go up there and clear it out, that’s a huge shot in the arm when you’re facing the other team’s ace and you have your ace on the mound. A great tone-setter.”

It was precisely the kind of start the Yankees were looking for. Gerrit Cole had himself a two-run lead before he ever unleashed a 97-mph heater of his own, and if he wasn’t note-perfect he was still awfully good, one hit over five innings, a bottom-of-the-first blast by Adam Eaton. Aaron Judge had a couple of hits. Tyler Wade made a breathtaking mad dash from first to home, stealing a run.

Even on a day that began with a sobering dose of reality in the time of COVID-19 and wound up sautéed in a teeming storm, it was as close to perfect a debut as the Yankees could have asked for, involving multiple heroes, yielding a victory over the defending champions, jump-starting the Yankees on their way to the 60-games-in-66-days grind to come.

Of all the positive signs, though, none resonates more than Stanton, who added an RBI single later on, smartly poking a 97-mph Scherzer heater into right field with the bases loaded. We have seen Stanton get off to fine starts, yes: Two years ago, in his Yankees debut, he hit two home runs on Opening Day in Toronto. And we have too often seen a compromised version, especially last year when he was limited to 18 games and 59 at-bats.

The Yankees are going to be awfully good even with a pedestrian version of Stanton, and of course would faint if he approaches his 2017 MVP season. But even an average of what Stanton was his final four years in Miami — .271/.366/.573 — could turn the Yankees from elite to juggernaut. It’s a subtle difference, but in October would be a noticeable one.

“It was good to get a beat on his fastball,” Stanton said. “Good to be on time for that.”

“It went about as close to perfect as you can ask,” Cole said when the game was finally called and the Yankees were officially 1-0, and perfection started with a ball that traveled 459 feet and got the season off to a rousing and roaring start.