Yankees do-everything star Aaron Judge punctuated his unreal week in his incredible start with yet another walk-off hit, a lined home run that beat the despised Astros to split a tight and tense four-game series, and keep him on pace to beat Roger Maris’ true home run record and keep the Yankees on pace for a record seasonal win total.
Judge isn’t doing all this single-handedly, it only seems that way at times like these.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” teammate Matt Carpenter said. “He’s as special a player as I’ve ever seen — for or against. He has a chance to impact the game every night, every at-bat, every way.”
To recap Judge’s latest heroics:
Thursday, he lined a walk-off single to cap a late comeback as the Yankees opened the series against the hated Astros, yet again their single greatest hurdle to the World Series.
Friday, he agreed to a contract for this season just as his arbitration hearing was to begin to a compromise that worked for both sides, and in so doing surely impressed his bosses by betting big on himself. (We’ll see how much that counts for later.)
Beyond the $19 million compromise, he got $250,000 in incentives for winning the MVP (not finishing second or third but actually winning it!) and $250,000 more for winning the World Series MVP. He’s the early favorite to win the season MVP, and that’s true moreso every day. But, even if he gets to the World Series (no guarantee), there are 52 players there starting from scratch.
Then Sunday, before a delirious Yankee Stadium crowd, Judge delivered the capper to salvage the weekend with a 6-3, 10-inning win against another great team — the hated Astros, or Asterisks, as the fans here might tell you — that finally appeared to give them a match. And for a while, the Astros gave them fits. For 16 ¹/₃ innings, a collection of five Astros pitchers held the Yankees hitless, the longest such streak against them in 61 years.
Until Judge’s fellow Twin Tower Giancarlo Stanton lined a home run to center field against Astros starter Jose Urquidy with one out in the seventh, the Yankees were a threat to become the improbable answer to a trivia question: What is the first team to be no-hit in consecutive games?
Instead, Judge made it three walk-off hits in a year that seems destined to be recalled only for positives. With two on and two out, he lined a no-doubt shot into the Astros bullpen, which was exposed a bit this weekend.
Characteristically, Judge credited his teammates for his uncanny confidence.
“When I walk up to the plate there’s no fear,” Judge said. “It makes it fun every single night.”
Modesty aside, he’s the one making this season a special one. His latest homer put him back ahead of the pace to break Maris’s team record of 61, and put the Yankees back ahead of the pace to break the 2001 Seattle Mariners’ regular-season record of 116 wins. The new projected totals: 62 homers and 117 wins.
At the same time the Yankees also killed the narrative that the Astros have their number, at least for now.
“We don’t sweat anyone,” manager Aaron Boone said. “We’ve got a great team and we know it.”
If this season seems like a celebration so far, Judge has made it so. Simultaneously, he’s made it impossible for fans to imagine a Yankees team without him. Of course, there’s no guarantee the bosses’ admiration for him taking the compromise deal on the cusp of the hearing means they will meet his requests, which suddenly seem quite reasonable.
We’ve said it before, but they have no choice but to pay him what the best position player in the game makes — the $36 million Mike Trout takes home. And let’s not forget that’s also what they pay their best pitcher, Gerrit Cole. His first big bet on himself should be cashed in. It seems obvious now.
They should also bestow the captaincy on him. While it’s seemed for a time that Derek Jeter might be the last Yankee captain, Judge has earned the honor. I think his bosses probably know that.
The Yankees need to do whatever they can to keep him in pinstripes. His career numbers probably made him the underdog had an arbitration hearing taken place (assuming the arbitrators ignored this year’s heroics, as they’re supposed to), but this team, these fans and his bosses surely know better. This will be the third time in his six years here he will be a top-five MVP player.
While some see no chance he’d leave, especially following his compromise agreement — “It’s too perfect a scenario. He ain’t going anywhere,” opined one longtime baseball observer — there’s no guarantee in this game.
There’s supposed to be no weeping in baseball, but everyone saw Freddie Freeman crying on his return this weekend to Atlanta, as a surprise Dodger. He thought he’d always be a Brave. So did we.
The same seems true about Judge. The fans love him, and he seems to love it here. He obviously loves the park, the city and his teammates. For now all does seem perfect.