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The mandate for being the face of your team is to carry it when it needs to be carried. And this is that time for Aaron Judge. This is that time for the Yankees.
There would be no Gleyber Torres (COVID-19 quarantine) again on Saturday night against the Orioles, no Giancarlo Stanton (quad) … and now, no Aaron Hicks (torn tendon sheath, injured list) with wrist surgery on the table that could be season-ending.
There have been too many times over the years when Judge has not been available, times when Yankees fans have wondered whether he will ever stay on the field long enough and often enough to replicate his monster 2017 rookie season. Or whether he will be so star-crossed that the jury on his greatness might be out even in The Judge’s Chambers.
In the blink of an eye, Judge turned 29 last month, and as much as he would love to be the Yankees’ BBF — Bronx Bomber Forever — there were no extension talks over the offseason. Judge is on a one-year, $10.18 million deal, and he will be a free agent following the 2022 season. And there was an ESPN report that his name came up over the offseason, linked with the Angels in what was characterized as “the lightest of flirtations.”
So this is his time to state his case once and for all.
Because when Aaron Judge rises, ALL RISE.
Judge, who homered twice on Friday night, continued his assault on the baseball with a two-run homer off a Jorge Lopez meatball in the second — a torrid rampage of nine hits in 15 at-bats that became 10 hits in 18 at-bats by the end of the night. He propelled Domingo German and the Yankees to a 5-0 lead on their way to an 8-2 victory over the Orioles at Camden Yards.
It was his 11th homer — tying him for the AL lead — in 125 at-bats, or a home run every 11.4 at-bats. In his 52-homer Star Trek four seasons ago, Judge hammered one every 10.4 at-bats.
It made Judge 11-for-20 with six homers for the season against the Orioles. Five of his 13 career multi-homer games are against the Birds. His .OPS against them in 2017 was a Ruthian 1.637.
“When you’re aggressive at the plate,” Judge said, “good things happen.”
When Luke Voit was asked what he had seen from Judge lately, he said: “MVP. He’s not missing mistakes, he’s controlling the zone and making the pitchers make good pitches.”
German, continuing to distance himself from his 81-game domestic violence suspension that sabotaged his 2020 season and April demotion to the alternate site, tormented the Orioles over his six innings (six strikeouts), with treacherous offspeed pitches and impressive command.
Torres, Clint Frazier, Gary Sanchez and Brett Gardner all are betraying the backs of their baseball cards and Luke Voit and Miguel Andujar are desperately try to chip off the rust. Sanchez did drive in a pair with a first-inning single, Voit had his first two hits of his abbreviated season and Andujar had one. Judge, however, has rebounded with a vengeance from a terrible slump during which he struck out five times on May 5 against the Astros in the midst of a 1-for-20 nightmare with 12 strikeouts.
The clutch Gio Urshela saved the game Friday night with his three-run, pinch-hit homer, but it is Judge, more than anyone, who is capable of providing an unmatched psychological lift to his team. The Yankees all but own the patent on larger-than-life sluggers. Why do you suppose Babe Ruth was nicknamed The Sultan of Swat? If anyone was going to hit a baseball out of Yankee Stadium, the smart money was on Mickey Mantle, and one night in 1963, he launched one, batting left-handed, high off the right-field façade.
“I feel like you could feel his intensity right now,” Tyler Wade said of Judge. “You can feel it in his work, you can feel it before the game … it’s hard to explain, but you can just feel it.”
It is why there was much gnashing of teeth when Aaron Boone was forced to keep Judge on the bench with lower-body soreness. But load management is a fact of life and a necessary evil with Judge, and Boone resting him before an off-day prior to the Rays series paid immediate dividends.
“I’ve been feeling good all year,” Judge said. “I think everybody’s dealing with something. I think the last time I was 100 percent would be the first day of spring training. Playing 162, playing every single day, is grueling on the body, but it’s just about managing it, being out there for the team, so we’ve done a pretty good job of it so far and hope to kinda keep doing that.”
He was the designated hitter on this night.
“I don’t mind the DH days, but I’d rather be out there in the field,” Judge said.
Stanton (nine homers, .882 OPS) provided early spring cover for Judge, and his absence is expected to be short-lived. But there is no guarantee that the rotation (the starters not named Gerrit Cole) will continue to overachieve. Luis Severino, who threw his first live batting practice session on Friday, is due back around midseason.
When Judge rises, ALL RISE.
History tells Boone that it is imperative he closely monitor his high-maintenance giant:
A strained calf sabotaged Judge’s 2020 season (nine HR, 22 RBI, 101 at-bats).
A strained oblique limited him to 102 games in 2019.
A broken bone in his right wrist limited him to 112 games in 2018.
Judge is reminding us that he is the leader of the Yankees. When he leads, everyone follows. There’s no better time to lead than now.
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Steve Serby