SAN DIEGO — Giancarlo Stanton and the Bronx Bombers made themselves right at home in Petco Park on a warm October evening in Southern California.
Stanton hit a grand slam in the ninth inning for New York’s fourth home run of the game, and the Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Rays 9-3 on Monday in the opener of their AL Division Series at Petco Park.
Stanton homered to straightaway center field on a 2-2 pitch from John Curtiss. The slugger took several steps with his bat still in his hands as he watched the ball sail through the pleasant San Diego evening air before beginning his trot.
A few fans chanted “Let’s Go Yankees!” from a balcony on an office building just beyond right field of the mostly empty ballpark.
“That SoCal air, man. That SoCal weather. That’s what it is,” said Stanton, who is from Los Angeles and won the Home Run Derby at Petco Park in 2016. He spent his first eight seasons with the Marlins and has nine homers in 20 games at Petco Park.
Kyle Higashioka, another SoCal native, and Aaron Judge hit the tying and go-ahead home runs off Blake Snell in the fifth to back winner Gerrit Cole. Clint Frazier hit an impressive shot into the second deck in left in the third.
The Bronx Bombers became the first team in American League history to hit a grand slam in back-to-back playoff games. Gio Urshela connected in Game 2 of the first-round sweep against Cleveland. Two NL teams have done it, the 1977 Dodgers and 2011 Diamondbacks.
Judge said he’s comfortable in San Diego, and his parents were at the game.
“This is the first game my parents were able to come to as well. That’s huge. My dad for sure doesn’t miss more than a month at a time, and we’re in October now,” he said.
Beginning with this round, all postseason series were moved to neutral sites because of the coronavirus.
The Yankees set a franchise record by hitting at least three home runs in three consecutive postseason games. They are the second team to do it in baseball history after the Rays did it in four straight in 2008.
Stanton has played in only 41 games over the past two seasons because of injuries.
“I feel great for him because I know this is what I envisioned for him last year,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s such a dangerous hitter in the middle of our lineup. When he’s controlling the strike zone, he’s as deadly as anyone.”
New York has 11 homers in three playoff games this year. They are the most for any team in the first three games of a postseason.
Teams that have outhomered the opposition are 13-0 in these playoffs.
Tampa Bay dominated the contentious regular-season series, going 8-2 against the rival Yankees and winning the AL East by seven games over second-place New York.
With the calendar flipped to October, it was a different story in their first postseason meeting.
“They can hit, there’s no secret in that,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “There’s nothing that was unexpected with them. They’ve just got some guys back that are healthier. There were a handful of players who didn’t have consistent reps against us or throughout the 60-game season due to injuries. They looked healthy tonight.”
The ball was flying for the Rays as well against Cole in downtown San Diego. Randy Arozarena homered in the first and Ji-Man Choi muscled an opposite-field, two-run shot in the fourth into the Rays bullpen in left-center to give Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead.
Cole went six innings, allowing three runs and six hits while striking out eight and walking two. The Yankees’ ace was pitching about 100 miles south of where he grew up in Newport Beach before playing at UCLA. Cole beat Tampa Bay twice in last year’s ALDS with Houston.
Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner, was the loser. He pitched five innings and allowed four runs on six hits while striking out four and walking two.
New York’s Aaron Hicks, who’s from San Pedro in the Los Angeles area, hit a sacrifice fly in the first and an RBI single in the ninth.
Arozarena tied it in the bottom of the first before Frazier gave the Yankees the lead in the second. Choi’s shot in the fourth put Tampa Bay ahead 3-2.
Higashioka, who’s from Huntington Beach in Orange County, hit a line shot into the seats in left leading off the fifth. Judge, who’s from Northern California, lined his shot into the left-field seats as well.
It was Judge’s 10th career postseason homer.
Tampa Bay reliever Shane McClanahan became the first pitcher in baseball history to make his big league debut in a postseason game.
Rays: Added All-Star OF Austin Meadows to the roster, but he wasn’t in the starting lineup. He had been out since Sept. 18 with a left oblique strain. Meadows struck out as a pinch-hitter in the seventh.
PETCO PARK MEMORIES
Coincidentally, Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin was a slugger for the Padres when Petco Park opened in 2004 with vast outfield dimensions. He and Ryan Klesko groused about how they’d crush a ball that would be a homer in other parks, only to watch it go for a long out. Nevin once hit a double that he thought should have been a homer. After reaching second, he gestured angrily toward general manager Kevin Towers’ box. The two later had words in the clubhouse.
The fences were moved in prior to the 2013 season.
Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka was pushed back to Game 3 in favor of the 5-foot-9 Garcia (3-2, 4.98 ERA).
Rays: The 6-foot-8 Glasnow (5-1, 4.08) goes for his second playoff victory after beating the Blue Jays 8-2 to complete a two-game sweep in the first round. He has won six straight decisions and four consecutive starts dating back to the regular season.