Stanton's homers fuel Marlins' surge in May

The Miami Marlins' latest homestand ended with their new ballpark still standing, despite Giancarlo Stanton blasting home runs off it.

He became the first player to hit the home-run sculpture, and the first player to homer into the beer garden. He also knocked out a section of the scoreboard with a homer.

"That's why we have maintenance workers — to fix the things Giancarlo breaks," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said with a chuckle.

The 6-foot-5, 246-pound Stanton has become a master of the tape-measure homer and more. He hit 12 home runs in May to tie the franchise record for a single month, and drove in 30 runs.

Since the start of the expansion era in 1961, the only other player under age 23 to total more homers and RBIs in a single month was Bob Horner in 1980, the Marlins said, citing the Elias Sports Bureau.

Stanton doesn't turn 23 until November.

"Unbelievable," teammate Jose Reyes said, shaking his head. "No one hits the ball harder than that guy. It's fun to watch. And he's only 22. It's unbelievable. He's 22! Unbelievable. Unbelievable."

"He's a little bit of a freak," teammate John Buck added.

Opponents are likewise impressed.

"There's not a park that's going hold him," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

The buzz about the Marlins' right fielder has been slowly building since he had three hits in his major-league debut in 2010. His majestic clouts are attracting more notice now that the perennially overlooked Marlins are on the national radar thanks to an offseason spending spree and a 21-8 record in May, best in the majors.

Just when the name Mike Stanton was starting to catch on — thanks to 56 homers in his first two seasons — the slugger asked to be called Giancarlo. His full name is Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton, and he went with Mike in school because it was easier to pronounce.

Pretty much everyone has adjusted to the rebranding except for Stanton's biggest fan, Cash Johnson. He's the 4-year-old son of Marlins right-hander Josh Johnson.

"Cash calls him 'Mike Stanton' every time," Johnson said. "Not 'Stanton,' not 'Mike,' but 'Mike Stanton.' He has always been his favorite player. He was in the weight room with Stanton on one of those physio balls stretching out with him, and he cried when he had to leave because he wanted to stay.

"He doesn't talk to anybody unless his name is Mike Stanton. I don't know if I can switch him over to Giancarlo."

Cash is part of a growing throng of admirers. Stanton went to a Miami Heat playoff game this week and was besieged by fans wanting to pose with him for photos.

He's fine with the attention.

"Being more popular or whatever comes with the territory," he said. "It's better to be good and popular than someone who has people saying, 'Whatever. He's an OK player.'"

The Californian started the season less than OK. On April 28 he was hitting .246 with no home runs, and it's hardly a coincidence the Marlins were 8-12 and last in the NL East.

"When he was struggling, we went to San Francisco," Buck recalled. "I told him, 'All you need is a little West Coast air, since you're from here. Get that in those big old muscles of yours, and you're going to take off.' He hit a bomb in San Francisco and I said, 'There you go, take off.' Maybe he took it literally."

Stanton hit five homers in a seven-game stretch and has hardly slowed since. His walk-off grand slam beat the Mets, and his grand slam against the Rockies made part of the scoreboard go blank.

He doesn't have to homer to make jaws drop. Early this year he hit a liner that never climbed higher than 10 feet and still reached the center field wall on a single bounce.

"I've never seen anybody hit a one-hopper to the fence, and he did it," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "In my time, I don't see anybody who has the ball jump off his bat like this kid."

Stanton said the ball he hit hardest in May wasn't a homer, but a double that started a comeback in the ninth to beat Mets closer Frank Francisco.

He begins June ranked among NL leaders with 13 homers and 39 RBIs, and his average is a season-high .304.

The statistic that makes him proudest is the last one.

"That's the kind of hitter I've been working to be," he said. "I don't like having a low average, period. I don't like the whole 1 for 5 with a homer and everyone else is like 'great game' because you hit a homer. I really don't like that kind of game."

Stanton batted .343 in May, and Guillen said the reason was his willingness to hit pitches up the middle and to right field. Guillen considers his young slugger a potential .300 hitter.

"He has the talent to do it," Guillen said. "And if this guy hits .300, he has a chance to win the MVP, because he'll have RBIs and home runs."

The biggest concern about Stanton is keeping him healthy, in part because he tends to flop about in right field with coltish zeal.

But with his bat, he appears invulnerable. Stanton took a 90-mph fastball in the left forearm Wednesday and didn't even flinch, later reporting only a slight bruise.

"The ball," he said with a smile, "has a dent."