Giancarlo Stanton Is Chasing an MLB Home Run Record, but Whose?

Home run number 55 was one of those shots that only Giancarlo Stanton, maybe, in the whole of professional baseball can hit. In the bottom of the fourth inning, not an arcing moonshot to left field but a viciously cracked laser beam that hardly seemed to leave the ground and yet traveled 455 feet, straight, to the right of that weird tropical structure as the viewer saw it on television.

That it would be a homer was never in doubt from the moment the ball left Stanton's bat at the bottom of the fourth inning at Marlins Park, the knockout artist formerly known as "Mike" cracking open what had been a tight game on the way to a 13-1 win over the tailspinning New York Mets.

Stanton is hitting with the certainty of a man closing in on a record. Only five players have ever hit the 60-home-run mark in a single season: Babe Ruth in 1927, Roger Maris in 1961, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds.

Do not hang breaking balls to Giancarlo Stanton. No. 55. pic.twitter.com/lSSnfmni92

— SI MLB (@si_mlb) September 19, 2017

Sosa did it three times, the first in 1998 when McGwire cracked 70, beaten only by Bonds three years later. Already, through 150 games Stanton stands at 19th on the all-time list and yet Bonds's 73 is out of reach even in this jaw-loosening season.

Each mighty swing carries with it a physical sureness, yes, and questions trailing in the vacuum behind. The seemingly unreachable marks of McGwire and Bonds stand, officially, as do Sosa's 60-plus seasons. Each has been tarnished. McGwire admitted to steroid use, Sosa allegedly tested positive for steroids in 2003 although he has always denied using PEDs, and Bonds became tangled up in the Balco scandal tightly enough that he still awaits entry into Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame.

"You're never going to see that again in your life…never," Sosa said in January of this year, as quoted by Sporting News. "You're never going to see the show Mark and I put on…never. You're not going to see that excitement again. We were the ones bringing more fans to the stadium.… I feel proud of what I did. The only thing is, they can say whatever they want to say about me. First of all, I'm clean. They don't have a case on me. I never failed a drug test. Never in my life."

Sosa is right, even in a season of unprecedented consistency in home-run hitting across the league. Behind Stanton only Judge, on 44, and the Arizona Diamondbacks' J.D. Martinez have passed 40 this season. Which leaves more questions swirling around Marlins Park with the fast-food wrappers, around the seats dented by Stanton's exocets. "We've had that talk a couple of times: Which one? What do they mean individually?" The Marlins' Christian Yelich said last week in quotes reported by The New York Times of discussions with Stanton about which mark he is really chasing. "We were both like, 'I don't know.'''

Where does Stanton stand, when he's not threatening the roof of Marlins Park? "Considering some things, I do,'' he said in August when asked whether he considered Maris's 61 home runs as the true single-season record.

Each blow from now on brings him closer to that mark, answering a question of himself and posing an existential one to baseball. The Marlins' muscled superhero is showing the gossamer uncertainty of MLB's recent past.