Every Judge at-bat is must-watch TV

August 6th, 2020

Aaron Judge took a night off from hitting home runs on Monday night against the Phillies and against Joe Girardi, the manager for whom “All Rise” Judge hit 52 just three years. But he was back to work in the first game of a doubleheader on Wednesday, hitting his seventh in the seventh inning, a three-run shot to left. He did that in just his 10th game of the short season, of which he has been the biggest star, and not just in the Bronx. More than anyone, even Gerrit Cole, the reason the Yankees feel as big as they do right now is No. 99. One hundred percent.

The home run on Wednesday, in the last inning of a seven-inning game, was another he hit to left. It traveled 371 feet. After some of the big flies he has already hit in that direction this season, it felt like he’d used a cricket bat this time. The Yankees hit 306 home runs in 2019, a team record, one less than the Twins hit. But, because of injuries, only 27 of them came from Judge. He missed 60 games, which means he missed what is now a full season just one year later.

There were all those home runs from the Yankees last season. It’s different now. Because of Judge. He is the one hitting them now and when he is the one hitting them, the Yankees really do look like the Bronx Bombers again, no matter how many the other guys hit a year ago. Already this season, he’s homered in five straight games. This is the way he hit them when he won the Home Run Derby at Marlins Park in 2017, in what became a Home Run Derby season for him.

Sixty, of course, has always been a magic number in baseball, because of Babe Ruth, who first made that a magic number when he hit 60 homers for the Yankees in 1927, after coming up one short in 1921. Now we get a 60-game season and, if Judge is blessed with good health again and consistently stays on the field for the first time since 2017, you wonder how many he just might hit between now and October. All we know for now is that Judge is back to being what he was three years ago, which means the at-bat you most want to see.

“He’s one of those guys,” Reggie Jackson said of Judge one time. “You don’t get out of your seat when it’s his turn to hit. You don’t walk away from the television set. Because you’re afraid you might miss him hit one right out of this world.”

Reggie knows. He was that kind of at-bat once for the Yankees. The Yankees got him as a free agent. Alex Rodriguez hit a ton of home runs for the Yankees. They traded for him. And they bought Babe Ruth’s contract from the Red Sox for $125,000. It is different with Judge, who is the first homegrown, home-run Yankee since Mickey Mantle showed up at the old Yankee Stadium nearly 70 years ago and he began hitting home runs out of sight. If Judge can stay on the field, he can be the face of this generation of Yankees baseball the way Derek Jeter was before him. Giancarlo Stanton can also hit balls over the moon, and he once hit 59 for the Marlins. The Yankees traded for him, too. For Yankees fans, No. 99 is theirs.

Judge hit the 27 homers last season. He hit 27 the year before, even missing 50 games, in a season primarily shortened that time by a fractured bone in his wrist after getting hit by a pitch. Because of the injuries, there has been a bit of a Mantle quality to him, because the world knows how bad knees informed Mickey’s career, really from the time he tore cartilage in his right knee as a 19-year old in the 1951 World Series. Now Judge is healthy again. He got a break (a good one this time) and the Yankees did when the season did not start at the end of March, because he would not have been close to being ready to play.

He is pulling the ball. Big time. There have been times when you thought Judge, despite his strength, had become too preoccupied with going the other way because of the short right-field wall at the new Stadium, which gives up so many cheap home runs. But so far this season, six of the seven homers have gone over the left-field wall. Way over the left-field wall.

“I'm not locked in yet. I'm still trying to find it," Judge said during a conference call Sunday. "That's the daily grind of baseball, searching for that locked in feeling. Locked in for me is if I'm going 5-for-5 every night. I still got out a couple times, chased a couple pitches. So there's sometimes where I'm not really locked in."

So many contemporary sluggers have changed teams, because that is just the contemporary baseball world. Again: It’s different for Yankees fans with Judge. Homegrown home-run hitter the way Mantle was, hitting them out of sight the way The Mick did once. For now, everybody is watching baseball on TV. Nobody gets up and walks away when All Rise comes walking to the plate. One of those guys again. One of those at-bats.