Greg Cote

With 59 home runs, Stanton still had a magic season. Just hope this wasn’t goodbye

Giancarlo Stanton, center, gets a standing ovation from some fans after striking out at the bottom of the 9th inning. The Miami Marlins played its last game of the season against the Atlanta Braves as Stanton attempted to tie Babe Ruth's season home run record on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017.
Giancarlo Stanton, center, gets a standing ovation from some fans after striking out at the bottom of the 9th inning. The Miami Marlins played its last game of the season against the Atlanta Braves as Stanton attempted to tie Babe Ruth's season home run record on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. cjuste@miamiherald.com

The disappointment for what might have been and almost was — 60! — will last a minute.

The reality of 59 — that's built for all time, too. That won't ever go away. For Giancarlo Stanton and Miami Marlins fans, this slow-building, dramatically finishing chase of baseball history was once-in-a-lifetime stuff, and that's quantifiable.

The chase and the season ended here Sunday with Stanton striking out, just like the Mighty Casey did, and the crowd standing in an appreciative ovation, anyway. The sonic continued, until Stanton rose from the dugout steps, doffed his cap and put his hand over the chest of his No. 27 jersey.

This was a sweet moment. This was mutual thanks.

But was it goodbye?

It had better not be.

The litmus test for the new Derek Jeter-led ownership group taking over Monday will be to keep Stanton, to keep the nucleus of that wonderful outfield with him and Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna — to not have anything resembling another fire sale.

“I wouldn't want to do that, no,” said Stanton when asked how he’d feel about a player-payroll rollback.

His no-trade clause gives him some say, some leverage.

“I’m gonna see what they got, what the plan is,” he said.

That’s for tomorrow. Right now, still time to celebrate an extraordinary season just ended for Stanton.

Sixty would have been sweet as symbolism. It would have admitted Stanton into an imaginary exclusive “club,” but guess what? He's in it anyway. He is its third member in its near-century-and-a-half history.

Three men in MLB annals dating to 1876 have hit at least 59 home runs without the benefit of performance-enhancing drugs and the fallout of shame:

Babe Ruth with 60 in 1927. Roger Maris with 61 in 1961. Now Stanton.

That’s it.

Baseball would include the Steroids Era poster-kids, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, the Tarnished Troika, who broke the 60 barrier a combined six times between 1998-2001. But that doesn't mean we the people must recognize as legit records dubiously achieved and deserving of an asterisk. Make it a scarlet asterisk.

That is what made Stanton’s run so historically significant.

A 60th on Sunday would have been nice (we love round numbers), but two more (were we getting greedy?) would have tied Maris for the legit all-time record.

Two more and Stanton would have shared the crown: King Clean. The People's Champion!

Far-fetched? Twenty-eight times in his career Stanton has had multiple-homer games – 10 this season alone, and as recently as Thursday night. It was hardly out of the question.

Imagine. Stanton surpassing Ruth and tying Maris on the final day of the season. At home. Stuff like that – that it can happen, the very possibility of it – is why we love sports, the greatest unscripted of plays, the ultimate reality show.

The Miracle on Ice? It happened. Hail Flutie? It happened. Nicklaus winning The Masters at 46, The Immaculate Reception, The Shot Heard 'Round the World – all happened.

One year ago, the Marlins mourning the sudden, tragic death of beloved teammate Jose Fernandez, and Dee Gordon – the least likely man to do it – leads off the game with a home run, weeping as he runs the bases, pointing skyward as he crosses the plate.

That happened.

Stanton might have done it.

The Marlins drew 50,486 fans the final two games for a chance to watch him try, to see history.

Sunday, Jeffrey Loria and Jeter both attended the game, watching separately — the game with heft not only for Stanton's pursuit but because it signaled the end of the polarizing, mostly unpopular Loria era of ownership. The group headed by Naples, Fla., billionaire Bruce S. Sherman and fronted by Jeter will be in charge starting Monday morning.

Alas, instead of putting a bow on a season that ended 77-85, Stanton would go homer-less in his last three games.

Instead, on Sunday — with thousands of smartphones held up at every at-bat to record history — Stanton would strike out swinging in the first inning, batting lead-off so he might enjoy an additional time in the batter’s box. He singled to center in the third, after fans had booed the Braves pitcher for a 3-0 count. In the fifth inning, Stanton singled sharply to left to drive in a run. Leading off the seventh, he grounded out to short. Stanton hit nothing deep Sunday, his at-bats conveying physical weariness. Mental as well? Who could blame him. In his last ups, in the bottom of 9th inning of the last game, the strikeout, the ovation, the curtain call.

“I’m fine with the way my season went,” he said.

He should be. The MLB home run crown, the RBI title, a final OPS over 1.000 — MVP numbers, and the crowd chanted that acronym late in the game.

“It was something special for me,” Stanton said of his magic season.

It was for Marlins fans and all of Miami, too.

As long as Sunday wasn’t goodbye.

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