MIAMI (AP) — Giancarlo Stanton asked to sit out a game — not so much because he was tired of playing, but because he was tired of making outs.
Swinging a weary bat and stalled for a week at 54 homers, Stanton requested a day off Sunday and was held out of the Miami Marlins’ starting lineup.
“I don’t like doing that, but also you’ve got to be smart,” he said. “It’s just that time of the year.”
The pause in his pursuit of 61 homers, or even more, seemed to help. On Monday, the Marlins slugger hit a three-run homer, an RBI single and a 118-mph lineout against the New York Mets.
With 55 homers, he needs six in the final 12 games to match Roger Maris’ hallowed 1961 total of 61, meaning he needs one more power surge.
What is Stanton thinking about those numbers?
“Don’t play like I have been,” he said. “We’ll worry about it when we’re done. I haven’t had the greatest at-bats lately, so just have better at-bats and good things will happen.”
The most prodigious, prolific home run hitter in the major leagues might also be the streakiest. His latest homer snapped a 9-for-62 slump (.145). Before that, he hit 18 homers in a 25-game span with a batting average of .387 and an OPS of 1.489.
Some consider Stanton the front-runner in the National League race for most valuable player. But Marlins manager Don Mattingly doesn’t even consider him the team MVP, giving the edge to All-Star left fielder Marcell Ozuna because he has been more consistent.
Ozuna has hit at least .295 with at least 18 RBIs in every full month this season.
Stanton’s monthly average has ranged from .242 in June to .349 in August. He entered Tuesday’s game against the Mets hitting .190 in September.
He is chasing bad pitches and missing a lot, which is what happens when Stanton slumps.
“I haven’t felt too well,” he said. “But I’ve had more comfortable at-bats the past couple of days. I’ve just got to turn it around.”
There’s time. He homered in six consecutive games in August. But in a sport with no clock, he’s racing one.
Stanton acknowledged last month that 61 homers is a goal because Maris’ record stood for 37 years before Mark McGwire broke it during the era tainted by steroids.
Others agree 61 looms large.
“I’m interested to see if he’s able to tie or break that record,” Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price said. “It’s significant for people that held that number holy, sacred, which might be my generation and those before me. I think it’s a huge deal.”
That sentiment is shared even in the American League, where the breakout season by New York Yankees rookie Aaron Judge has become overshadowed by Stanton’s pursuit of another Yankee — Maris.
“What he’s doing is pretty remarkable, to be able to even talk about getting there,” Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner said. “It’s going to be fun to watch down the stretch.”
Mets manager Terry Collins grew up a Yankees fan and remembers Maris’ 1961 season.
“It was pretty cool to think someone could hit more than 60 home runs in a season,” Collins said. “And Stanton is doing it when times are different. Pitchers are different, parks are different. It’s truly a tremendous feat what he’s doing.”
Stanton’s homer total is the highest since Ryan Howard hit 58 in 2006. He has a chance to become the first player to reach 60 since steroids-fueled 2001, when Barry Bonds hit 73 and Sammy Sosa hit 64.
The Marlins’ remaining schedule includes three dates at hitter-friendly Colorado, where Stanton has 10 homers in 20 career games. Along with the Mets, he’ll also face Arizona and Atlanta.
Monday’s homer off Matt Harvey gave Stanton hope, as did that 118-mph lineout to left field.
“Those are good outs,” Stanton said. “I haven’t had even too many good outs lately. Even if it doesn’t look as pretty, it’s how you feel. Hopefully I get some games like this, and it leads to something better.”
One last surge might be enough for 61.
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum in New York and freelancer Nate Latsch in Cincinnati contributed to this report.
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