He is 28 years old, and suddenly troubling questions, chilling questions for the Yankees and Yankees fans, surround Aaron Judge:
Have we already seen the best of him?
Will he ever stay on the field long enough to again be the most feared face of the franchise? The imposing Sultan of Swat who bashed 52 home runs three long seasons ago?
Might the Yankees decide to hit the pause button on a mega-extension as Judge limps for now toward free agency in 2022?
Aaron Judge (mild right calf strain) placed on the IL, Yankees fans placed on the ILL.
This is the kind of precaution you are forced to take when your injury-plagued star has a history of day-to-day deteriorating into week-to-week and month-to-month.
For one night, the slumbering bats of Gary Sanchez (a 457-foot Judge-ian two-run HR) and Gleyber Torres (4-for-4, double, two RBIs) awakened with a vengeance in support of Gerrit Cole’s 20th consecutive victory, 10-3 over the Red Sox, and red-haired Clint Frazier (double, two RBIs) stayed red hot.
“It’s obviously a little bit of a blow, but we have a next-man-up mentality here,” Cole said.
As much as it kills Judge to be sidelined yet again, especially when there is so much urgency to each and every game, the sobering reality is no one will confuse him with Cal Ripken Jr. or retired Giants Iron Man Eli Manning.
From his oblique in 2019 to bleak in 2020, with Judge not due back until Aug. 22 at the earliest.
“I just think it’s really important that he not go out there and hurt this thing significantly trying to play through something,” Aaron Boone said. “Hopefully, it should be a pretty short stint on the IL.”
Boone guesstimated it was lower body tightness that prompted him to pull Judge from Tuesday night’s game. Until a Thursday MRI revealed otherwise.
“When you’re talking about calves, when you’re talking about a hamstring,” Boone said, “it’s a situation where you can tweak it more and then all of a sudden we’re looking at a four-to-six-week situation, and that’s really what we’re trying to avoid here.”
If there were no pandemic, Judge’s Chambers might have been as hushed as it was, and is.
“Hopefully we’ve gotten a little bit ahead of this thing,” Boone said. “Hopefully it is a mild situation, and Aaron will be back on the field.”
Hope, however, especially with Judge, is not a strategy.
His marvelous, muscular 6-foot-7, 282-pound body has proven to be both a blessing and a curse. Wear and tear has now become a nagging companion for him.
Judge, granted the benefit of COVID-19 spring training 2.0 following his fractured right rib and collapsed lung was off to a monster start with nine homers, and with Giancarlo Stanton on the IL for the foreseeable future, it will fall on Torres and Sanchez, both of whom have been more Bronx Bummer than Bomber, as well as Frazier, to pick up the slack.
“We’ve lost two MVP-caliber players, that is a blow,” Boone said, “but absolutely we have the people that can withstand this.”
It would help if James Paxton can return to form and help Cole in the rotation, and closer Aroldis Chapman is on his way back, and maybe someone can emerge as this season’s Gio Urshela. Even without Judge, this isn’t The Little Sisters of the Luxury Tax.
“We’ve got four months to win a championship and we want everybody on the field,” Judge said at the beginning of July.
Boone is enough manager and he has enough team to hold the fort until Judge returns … when he returns still sounds like a much better bet than if he returns, but who knows for sure?
“This is a case of just trying to make sure we protect him, and make sure we have him for the long haul,” Boone said. “And even though we’re in a 60-game season, or as many people put it, a 60-game sprint, the bottom line if we hurt that more, we jeopardize the season and we don’t want to do that.”
Mighty Mickey Mantle fought off injuries (and alcohol) and stayed on the field enough to slug 536 HRs. By the time he was 28, he had hit 280 of those HRs in 1,246 games and 4,478 at bats. Judge has 119 HRs in 413 games and 1,479 at bats. What a shame if that 99 jersey has to keep hanging periodically at his locker instead of on his back.
Aaron on the side of caution is always a good idea with Judge. And because hope is not a strategy, World Series-or-Bust Yankees fans might want to go directly to prayer.