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ALDS Game 5 Player of the Game: Giancarlo Stanton

Stanton’s first-inning laser of a home run gave the team an immediate boost.

Division Series - Cleveland Guardians v New York Yankees - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Stars wins playoff games. Yeah, you can try and get by with a streak of luck led by average dudes on fire, but when it comes down to it, stars win you big games. That is exactly what Giancarlo Stanton did off the rip in the bottom of the first inning of a do-or-die ALDS Game 5 when given the opportunity to make Aaron Civale’s lack of control come back to bite him.

Knowing that Civale wouldn’t be in the game for a long time, it was crucial for the Yankees offense to show aggression and make manager Terry Francona regret his decision to go to his fourth starter instead of his ace, Shane Bieber, on short rest. Aaron Civale hadn’t appeared in a game since October 5th. That is, in two weeks, Civale has been hibernating while the bullpen and top three starters carried the load of the postseason. The Guardians’ relief corps had been nails in the series thus far, making a bullpen game a fair decision. That’s not what happened. Instead, Francona went with Civale, who was faced with the tall task of getting by the top of the Yankees’ lineup, and of course, Pinstripe Alley’s Player of the Game, Giancarlo Stanton.

Slower-velocity pitchers who live and die by relying on their command are a near-perfect matchup for Stanton when in Yankee Stadium. His flat bat path paired with the short right-field porch is a nightmare for a pitcher like Civale, who needs to live off dotting cutters away to right-handed hitters. In fact, it’s his primary pitch (thrown 35 percent of the time). Without it, he loses his ideal approach and pitch sequencing. Therefore, he must throw it. If a hitter beats him, then he’ll just have to tip his cap and call them his daddy.

Stanton is a guess hitter. He will completely sell out on a pitch to get to one that he knows he will hit 115 mph. Fall behind, and you let him rely even heavier on the guess, and potentially hurt you. Civale started the at-bat with a spiked curveball and then a cutter below the zone. His release point was completely out of whack at times. That’s not too surprising since, y’know, two weeks with no in-game appearance.

Anyway, this was a worst-case scenario for Civale. He walked Gleyber Torres, got extremely lucky against Aaron Judge after hanging a curveball up in the zone, and plunked Anthony Rizzo with the pitch that is supposed to be his easiest to control.

What does that all mean? Civale was absolutely going back to his primary pitch. Yeah, maybe the curveball was a possibility, but the hanger against Judge and spiked offering in the beginning of the at-bat to Stanton made it easy for the Yankees DH to rule it out and sell out for the cutter away. Civale’s mindset was probably something along the lines of: “Execute the cutter away and hope he rolls over to give you a groundball to sneak out of this jam.”

It wasn’t poor execution by any means, the pitch was on the edge, and probably something many hitters would take in a 2-0 count! But in this case, you’re facing one of the few hitters who can shoot a low line drive over the fence on this exact pitch and location. It’s not Civale’s fault, really. He is just a perfect matchup for Stanton to make the most of his unique skill of laser-beam opposite-field home runs that barely leave the ground.

Like I said earlier, stars win playoff games. Stanton has carried this team on his back in the playoffs at times, and this was no different. He came out and immediately put the Guardians’ hype to rest. Like Stanton said in his postgame interview, it’s important to throw the first punch. He threw a big one. His home run was followed up by a great performance from Nasty Nestor Cortes on short rest, and no runs from the bullpen in four innings.

It was a nice team effort led by a powerful right hook from the Yankees’ slugger in the first inning to help clinch the ALDS victory over Cleveland. Now, let’s go finally beat those damn Astros.