It’s another Yastrzemski homer at Fenway Park as Giants avoid getting swept

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BOSTON — A legend returned to Fenway Park on Thursday morning.

But Carl Yastrzemski did not wave to the crowd. He did not soak up applause. He didn’t even stay for the first pitch. He has not mingled or shaken hands for years. He was there to visit his grandson, outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, before the San Francisco Giants played the final game of their three-game interleague series here. At just past 11 a.m. the elder Yaz appeared as a blur in the visitors clubhouse, his snow-white hair and bowed back contrasting how fast he double-timed it to the visiting manager’s office. Bob Melvin was awestruck and struggled to make conversation, but it was apparent from what was spoken that the most iconic living Boston Red Sox player, stoic Captain Carl, the man who holds the major-league record for the most games played with one team, has been a steady watcher of Giants baseball this season.

“He has the same sentiment: We have good players and it’ll work its way out,” Melvin said. “So don’t get caught up in the day-to-day.”

Their meeting lasted maybe three minutes, no more than five. Then the 84-year-old legend was a white-haired blur again, hustling through the clubhouse to a side room where he and his grandson conversed about health, about family, about Carl’s new great-grandson. Their meeting lasted maybe five minutes, no more than seven. After that, he was out the door and out of sight, moving faster than someone with an expired meter.

“I think he left the car running when he was in here,” Mike Yastrzemski said, smiling. “But that’s normal. He’s quick to the point, you know.”

The curiosity about being a living legend is that nobody around you — nobody outside of your innermost circle, anyway — wants to exist with you in the present context. They want to gush about the past, traffic in nostalgia, prompt you for memories or seek affiliation by sharing their own. When they express admiration, it can feel like it’s for what you’ve done, not for who you are. Carl Yastrzemski the ballplayer stopped existing four decades ago. He is a different person living a different life and relating to different subjects now. Everyone experiences time differently, of course.  Everyone defines themselves in unique ways. But it should not come as a surprise if Yastrzemski is uncomfortable fixing his identity to anything but the present. That is how he approached his 23-year career, forever operating in the moment, tinkering and working on his swing, taking each of his 3,308 games one at a time. He won a Triple Crown and became a perennial All-Star and zoomed past 2,000 hits on the way to 1,419 more, yet he kept grinding as if afflicted with impostor syndrome. Perhaps it was simpler than that. When you are so detached from your former self, it can feel like it wasn’t really you who accomplished all those things.

All of this can be difficult to understand for generations of Red Sox fans who merely want to shower appreciation on one of the greatest players in baseball history, who are confused or even pained that someone as beloved as Carl Yastrzemski would retreat into seclusion. But it is his choice to make his world as wide or as small as he wants. It takes something extraordinary, like his grandson the big leaguer returning to Fenway for the first time since 2019, to nudge him out the door.

So he came to the time capsule of a ballpark on Yawkey Way. His total visit lasted maybe 20 minutes, no more than 15.

When Mike Yastrzemski hit a home run in the third inning Thursday, cracking the offensive ice in a 3-1 victory that allowed the Giants to avoid getting swept in this three-game series, it was similar in one respect to the electrifying homer he hit in his first game here in 2019. Both times, TV cameras couldn’t pan to the stands or a suite for a shot of his grandfather.

This was the present moment. This was Mike’s moment.

“One of the things that he’s done incredibly well as a grandfather is letting me have my career,” Mike Yastrzemski said. “He’ll pick up the phone when I call or if I ask him questions, he’ll answer. But he’s never forcing anything on me. He’s never suggesting anything. He’s always told me, ‘When in doubt, talk to your hitting coaches.’ As much as we worked together when I was younger, my swing has evolved. It’s completely changed. I have different thoughts, different cues. And he knows that these guys are the reason that I’m able to be so successful.”

There are times when the grandson feels fixed in the present moment, too.

“I don’t want to take anything away from how special it is,” he said of his shot off Red Sox right-hander Josh Winckowski, which sailed into the bullpens. “But it’s also kind of like another home run. The first one was super crazy where I actually couldn’t believe that happened. It was a little bit more normal this weekend. I actually got to enjoy it while I was here rather than reflecting on it (later) and being like, ‘Man, that was really cool.’”

For the Giants, who haven’t scored more than three runs in seven consecutive games, defining their offensive identity in the present is no way to build confidence. This is an experienced core of position players who can draw conviction from their past success. It is also the healthiest and most complete that this lineup will be all season. They aren’t waiting on someone to be activated from the injured list or looking over their shoulder for the next round of roster churn.

“These are our guys,” as Bruce Bochy often said.

For Giants fans who craved more continuity and stability, that’s exactly what they’re getting. Other than the season-opening road trip, when Luis Matos replaced Yastrzemski for two games (paternity list) and catcher Joey Bart yielded his roster spot for a 13th pitcher, the Giants haven’t made one roster alteration to the position player group. When that group doesn’t produce, patience is required.

Including patience for Yastrzemski’s scuffling platoon partner. Melvin said he thought about letting Yastrzemski hit against a left-hander after Patrick Bailey, Matt Chapman and Thairo Estrada opened the seventh inning with singles and the Red Sox brought in a left-hander. But Austin Slater is on this team for a reason. He was 3-for-29 and he’d had a total of four plate appearances over the past eight days. How can the Giants get him going if they don’t use him in the spots that are designed for him?

“He’s part of this team too,” Melvin said. “I know he’s gotten off to a slow start like Yaz did but he’s still an important guy for us and that’s a spot he’s used to being up in.”

Slater struck out. Then shortstop Nick Ahmed, who grew up a fervent Red Sox fan in East Longmeadow, Mass., and was playing at Fenway Park for the first time this week, followed with a sacrifice fly. It was enough offense to support Kyle Harrison on an afternoon when the rookie had enough fastball juice to scatter five walks in five innings. And with the novelty of a late lead to protect, Melvin was able to turn to his leverage relievers — a group that definitely includes left-hander Erik Miller, who blew a 100 mph fastball past Rafael Devers to end the seventh inning. Ahmed made a spectacular play to start the eighth, ranging far to his right and throwing across his body to help right-hander Tyler Rogers work a clean inning. Camilo Doval contributed one more, allowing the Giants to enjoy a short but happy flight to Philadelphia to begin a four-game series.

Their offense will go from facing the rotation that leads the American League in ERA to the rotation that leads the National League in ERA.

“I think we had a little bit of a better approach today,” said Mike Yastrzemski, singling out Jung Hoo Lee and Jorge Soler as two Giants hitters who had especially bad batted-ball luck in the series. “We got some better pitches to hit. Jungie had a great series. He lined out so many times and he didn’t really have anything to show for it. And that’s a shame because he deserved a lot more, but he had a great series. So I think when you look at it from a realistic perspective, we’re doing a lot of things really well. It’s just sometimes the results aren’t there, but today, we had enough.”

Lee hit line drives all over the ballpark and crushed a few that would’ve cleared the fences elsewhere. But he finished the series 1-for-12. He also lost a fly ball in the sun but recovered two batters later, punching the turf with his fist after making a headfirst dive while catching Jarren Duran’s sinking line drive to save a run.

“I was just stressed about the first play,” Lee said through Korean interpreter Justin Han. “After the mess that I made when the ball fell in center field, I was thinking to myself that I wish the next one will come to me and I can make a catch to help the team. It actually happened.”

Lee was asked his opinion of Fenway Park. He gave a diplomatic answer. But when told the Giants won’t come back here for two years, he laughed while clasping his hands in prayer.

Mike Yastrzemski will be pushing 36 when the Giants return to Fenway in 2026. He’ll have reached free agency. He could be wearing another uniform. (Would a stint with the Red Sox really surprise anyone?) Or he could be rehabbing an injury or looking for work. Another 36-year-old, Brandon Belt, certainly didn’t expect to be sitting at home right now.

But there’s little sense in pondering his future self. All of that will be a product of what he does in the present.

On Thursday afternoon, for maybe the first time in his baseball life, Mike Yastrzemski acknowledged that he was almost happy that Melvin pinch hit for him. It gave him a couple of innings to stand at the dugout rail, scan the crowd, and pinpoint all the places he had seats over the years.

Any time you spend savoring memories is time that you’re not spending creating new ones. But it’s no wonder that we crave reliving the past. It’s a respite from all the anxieties of living in the present. And it allows us to experience wonder again.

“I’m looking around and I’m like, ‘I have my greatest childhood memories here,’” Mike Yastrzemski said. “I was really glad to have that time to reflect.”

But not too much time. There was one other major difference between Yastrzemski’s home run in 2019 and his shot on Thursday. The last one came in a 7-6, 15-inning victory that consumed five hours, 54 minutes and ranked as the second-longest game in franchise history. This one got done in a tidy two hours, 21 minutes.

Which was good. People have other things to do.

(Photo of Mike Yastrzemski: David Butler II / USA Today)

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