Friday, May 3, 2024

Yankees Need Judge To Start Ruling


Aaron Judge at bat in the bottom of the first inning against Detroit starting pitcher Reese Olson. Photo by Jason Schott.

The Yankees entered Friday night's game against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium with a record of 20-13, a solid start to the season that's all the more remarkable for the fact that their captain has yet to really get going. 

Aaron Judge, who had played in all 33 games through Thursday, had a .197 average, with six home runs and 18 RBI, with a .331 on-base percentage, a .393 slugging percentage, and a .724 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). 

Though Judge had just 24 hits in 122 at-bats, Judge notched 24 walks to give him that .331 OBP, a cool 134 points above his batting average (for reference, 75 is considered solid.

Yankees Manager Aaron Boone was asked, in his pregame press conference on Friday afternoon, what he feels has been the reason for Judge's slow start, and he said, “I’m not sure. I’m not sure, I mean, again, he’s had stretches like this in his career. Still think he’s got, what, six homers, 18, 20 ribbies (RBI), walking, and a lot of people would kill to have over a .700 (OPS) when they’re going through a tough stretch. You know, there’s tons of guys around the league, All-Star players, great players, that I look at and they’re sitting in the fives (between .500 and .600) from an OPS standpoint, so he’ll get there. 

“Hitting’s hard, even for the best of the best, which he is, of course. I’ve seen, like, man, it looks like he’s starting to lock in there, and then, boom, maybe a couple at-bats where he doesn’t, but I really don’t worry about him too much. I know that he’s doing everything he needs to do to get going and get on track, get locked in, and matter of time before he gets there…He’s not far off.”

Boone was prescient, as it would all be all lined up for Judge on Friday night, as he led off the ninth inning with the Yankees trailing 1-0, and Detroit calling on their closer, Jason Foley, to finish off the game.

Judge, who was 0-2 with a walk to that point, rocketed a single to center field that energized the crowd at The Stadium.

Aaron Judge running to first on his single. Photo by Jason Schott.

Alex Verdugo then laid down a bunt to third base that he beat out for a hit, and just like that, the Yankees had the winning runs on base.

Giancarlo Stanton was up next, and he also made the most of the situation and crushed one into the right field corner that brought Judge in to tie the game at 1, and by this point, Yankee Stadium was in a frenzy. This was Stanton's second hit this season that either tied the game or put the Yankees ahead, with the other instance in the 10th inning last Friday night in Milwaukee. Stanton is now hitting .304 with two home runs, and 13 RBI with runners in scoring position this season.

Aaron Judge approached the plate on Giancarlo Stanton's double (he's between first and second base). Photo by Jason Schott.

Anthony Rizzo was up next, and he took the second pitch he saw from Foley and drilled it to right field to bring in Verdugo and give the Yankees the 2-1 win.

This was the Yankees' first walk-off win of the season, and it was Rizzo's ninth career walk-off hit, and second as a Yankee. It also was his 1,600th career hit.

Anthony Rizzo waiting for his teammates after crossing first base, and Alex Verdugo emphatically steps on the plate to win it. Photos by Jason Schott.

The celebration was on for the Yankees. 

The Yankees are now 21-6 when they have scored at least two runs, the best mark in the Major Leagues. 25 of the Yankees' 34 games have been decided by three runs-or-fewer, with 22 of them decided by two runs-or-fewer, the most in the Majors.

Boone said of how big it was that Judge started this comeback win, "There's no question when Aaron Judge does stuff, the guys react positively to that, without question. He's got that kind of presence and he's that kind of player, and the guys look to him in that way, so, yeah, I think it is big, but I also think when other guys do something big, it's also a shot in the arm for them too. You know, there's a number of guys in there that that's the case, but because he's our Captain and our guy, to, you know, get us started off a tough right-on-right guy, that was big."

This was a nice bounce-back win for the Yankees after they dropped three of four to the division rival Orioles in Baltimore. Since they lost the finale of that series on Thursday afternoon, this win means they are now 9-4 after a loss this season.

Boone was asked if the Yankees needed a big win like this after that series, and he said, "I mean, sometimes I get a little annoyed by that, you know, it's always throughout the year, 'oh, we really needed that one,' or 'we need this,' or 'we got to beat this,' it's like, no, we've got to play well. You've got to play well over a long period of time to get to where you want to go, so it's really nice when you get a win in this league and, you know, when you get out to a decent start and rack up some wins, however they come. It's important, but, you know, I don't like to get into 'we needed this' because I think we're too strong in there, and those guys are too focused and tough, and they're going to have a bumpy road here and there, and you're going to have a game you feel like you should have won and lost, and, you know, to be successful in this league, you have to be able to handle all that, and continually move on and deal with success and failures along the way."

Marcus Stroman got the start in this one for the Yankees, and after he threw five shutout innings to open the game, he lost the plate in the sixth and wound up walking in a run before exiting. He went 5 1/3 innings, allowing just the one run on three hits and five walks, with three strikeouts. 

The Yankees bullpen delivered, as Ian Hamilton and Victor Gonzalez each pitched 1 1/3 innings before Dennis Santana pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his second win of the season (2-0 with a 3.68 ERA).

For Detroit, Reese Olson opened the game with five shutout innings, in which he scattered just two hits and two walks, while striking out five. He lowered his ERA to 2.70 from 3.18, and despite that low mark, his record remains 0-4 on the season.

The Tigers bullpen kept the Yankees off the board the next few innings, as Alex Faedo threw 1 1/3 innings, striking out four; Andrew Chafin threw 2/3 of an inning, and Shelby Miller pitched a perfect eighth before Foley suffered his first blown save of the season. 

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