|Aaron Judge drawing a walk in the sixth inning. Photo by Jason Schott.|
When Aaron Judge hit his 61st home run in Toronto on Wednesday night to tie Roger Maris' Yankees and American League single-season home run record, the stage was set for him to do it on Friday night at Yankee Stadium against the Baltimore Orioles.
With 47.583 on hand the 16th shutout of the season, the crowd was into it from the start, anticipating every Judge at-bat with the same exhilaration as a weekend ago when he was looking to tie the record.
Judge's first three at-bats came against Baltimore starter Jordan Lyles, starting with a strikeout to open the bottom of the first inning.
|Judge swinging and missing to end his at-bat in the first. Photo by Jason Schott.|
In the third, when Judge came up with two out and nobody on, he hit a seeing-eye single up the middle. In the sixth, an inning in which Judge led off, he drew a walk.
|Aaron Judge watching his single go up the middle in the third inning. Photo by Jason Schott.|
Judge's final at-bat came in the eighth, with one out and Isiah Kiner-Falefa at second base, which he stole after he led off the inning with a single. Baltimore had reliever Danny Bautista in by this point, with the Orioles up 2-1, and after he pitched away from the strike zone, and with a brief interregnum after Bautista appeared to twist his hip, he intentionally walked Judge with the count 3-0.
|Aaron Judge walks by the plate as the Orioles' Felix Bautista is examined by Manager Brandon Hyde and the trainer. Photo by Jason Schott.|
The Orioles, who were still alive in the Wild Card race entering play, beat the Yankees, 2-1, on Friday night.
Baltimore got on the board in the top of the first against Yankees starter Domingo German, as Cedric Mullins led off with a walk, stole second base, and came in on a two-out single from Ryan Mountcastle.
Lyles had no trouble getting through the first four innings, as he scattered two singles.
Oswaldo Cabrera, the Yankees rookie sensation, led off the fifth inning by driving one to right field that got over the fence for a solo home run, his fifth of the year, to tie the game at 1.
German, who settled in nicely after the first inning, came out for the sixth and walked the first two hitters, Adley Rutschman and Anthony Santander, before retiring Mountcastle for the first out and exiting.
In came Zack Britton, who walked Gunnar Henderson, before firing a wild pitch the backstop while Jesus Aguilar was up, which brought in Rutschman to make it 2-1 Baltimore.
Britton did not run to cover the plate, so it was evident something was wrong. The Yankees pulled him immediately with what was later characterized as "left arm fatigue." This was not what the Yankees wanted to see happen to their lefty reliever, who was making his third appearance since he returned from a season-long injury last Saturday.
Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said of Britton's injury after the game, "That (left arm fatigue) more than anything, elbow's fine, I think it's just a case we didn't want to see him push through something and try and reach for something that wasn't there and then you end up hurting yourself, so I think he's alright, I think it's just being out there now in stressful situations and reaching for it a little bit, so we'll see what he have tomorrow and stuff."
(UPDATE ON BRITTON - On Saturday morning, the Yankees put him on the 60-day injured list with “left shoulder fatigue”)
Ron Marinaccio was next out of the Yankees' bullpen and he struck out Aguilar to finish the at-bat before walking Austin Hays and then striking out Ryan Stowers to end the inning.
Lyles, now working with a lead again, struck out the side in the sixth after that leadoff walk by Judge, and then retired the Yankees in order in the seventh before giving up the single to Kiner-Falefa to open the eighth.
Bautista then struck out Jose Trevino, and while he was up, Kiner-Falefa stole second before Judge was intentionally walked.
With two on base and one out, Anthony Rizzo struck out and Gleyber Torres flew out to center.
DL Hall came on for Baltimore to close it out in the ninth, and he got Giancarlo Stanton to fly out to first base, and then struck out Marwin Gonzalez and Cabrera to end it.
The Orioles improved to 81-76 on the season, one win away from a winning record, quite an achievement for a team that lost 100 games in the three straight 162-game seasons. They were eliminated from the Wild Card race when the Seattle Mariners won their game last Friday night to earn their first playoff berth since 2001.
The Yankees, who clinched the American League East on Tuesday night, fell to 96-59, and will have to win four of their final six games to have a 100-win season.
DJ LeMahieu was activated from the 10-day injured list before the game, and was in the lineup for the first time since September 4, as he's been battling a toe issue. He played third base and went 0-for-3 before he was lifted in the eighth inning.
Boone said of what he saw from LeMahieu, "He did pretty well, actually...More than anything, because he hasn't had a lot of live at-bats, obviously, you know, he just started hitting off the machine...today was the first day getting at it and seeing live pitching, so more than anything I want to see how he responds, like what did you feel, how do you feel tomorrow, those kinds of things."
Clay Holmes Update: There was a major bombshell dropped by Boone during his press conference when he was asked if reliever Clay Holmes, who has made just one appearance in the last week, was available in this one.
"No, he's dealing with a shoulder issue, too," Boone said. "He has not been available...He's got a little strain in there, he got a shot the other day, so we're just kind of seeing, you know, it's kind of that timeline right up around the Division Series (October 11), you know, hopefully he's starting to throw again in a couple of days...
"I would say he's unlikely to get into one of the last six games. It's a concern, but I feel like we're trending in a good direction. I think the biggest thing for us is, is he going to be ready for that first two games of the Division Series, and that's kind of the timeline it seems like we're on right now, so we'll see."
This is the latest sobering news for a pitcher who was the story of baseball early in the season, as he came out of nowhere to become the Yankees closer, and earned 20 saves as the Yankees raced out to the best record in baseball, a big reason they won the American League East with ease.