Judge's career-high 53rd HR fuels much-needed win

Emotions run high at times, but Yanks escape Tampa Bay with a sigh of relief

September 4th, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- Aaron Judge has gamely embraced the challenge of strapping the Yankees across the ‘99’ on his back, attempting to carry the club out of its second-half tailspin. His public challenge, one that the slugger voiced this week, is that he wants his teammates to “bring it every single day.”

Judge set the tone on Sunday, swatting the game’s second pitch for his Major League-leading 53rd home run, then aggressively manufacturing a run on the basepaths. It proved to be enough, as Frankie Montas hurled five one-hit innings before Clay Holmes sealed a 2-1 Yankees win with a 101.7 mph sinker, the hardest pitch he has ever thrown in a Major League game.

“I think sometimes we get a little caught up in chasing results,” Judge said. “You’ve got to get caught up in the process of preparing the right way and sticking to a good approach, and I saw that up and down the line.”

In notching their 80th win, the Bombers survived some ninth-inning drama, as Holmes surrendered three hits before pinning the go-ahead and winning runs on base, ringing up Yandy Diaz with a called third strike that the Rays unanimously believed was low.

Not surprisingly, the Yankees viewed it differently: a much-needed break to conclude a rough road trip.

“I thought it was a great pitch,” Holmes said. “I haven’t really gone back and looked at it yet, but I thought it was a good sinker down. I’m not sure where it was, but I’m glad we got the call.”

The Yanks wrapped a 4-6 swing through Oakland, Anaheim and Tampa Bay, restoring a five-game advantage in the American League East with 28 games remaining. Manager Aaron Boone watched most of the game on television after being ejected for arguing a catcher’s interference call in the fifth inning.

“It’s way more nerve-racking up here [in the office],” Boone said. “My pacemaker was kicking into overdrive.”

Judge’s first-inning homer off Rays opener Shawn Armstrong traveled a Statcast-calculated 450 feet to the top deck in left field, a 115.3 mph missile that represented his second homer in as many at-bats after going deep in the ninth inning on Saturday.

As he continues to chase Roger Maris’ single-season American League record of 61 homers, Judge’s 53 blasts are a new career high. He hit 52 in 2017, when he was the unanimous American League Rookie of the Year and finished second in the AL MVP race. Judge is on pace to hit 64 home runs.

Most HR in a season, MLB history -- with totals through 134 team games:
2001 Barry Bonds: 73 -- 56
1998 Mark McGwire: 70 -- 54
1998 Sammy Sosa: 66 -- 52
1999 Mark McGwire: 65 -- 52
2022 Aaron Judge: 64 (current pace) -- 53
2001 Sammy Sosa: 64 -- 52
1999 Sammy Sosa: 63 -- 57
1961 Roger Maris: 61 -- 51
1927 Babe Ruth: 60 -- 47

“My job at the top of the lineup is just trying to get on base for the guys behind me,” Judge said. “That’s all I’m trying to do there in the first inning, especially with a guy like Armstrong, who’s got a good little sinker-cutter combo. I tried to put something in play and was lucky to get something over the plate.”

Both benches briefly cleared in the second inning when Josh Donaldson was buzzed by an Armstrong fastball, with the umpires warning both clubs. It had little effect on Montas, who relied upon his fastball, splitter and slider to register his first win as a Yankee.

“My pitch count was a little high [at 93],” Montas said. “They fouled off a lot of pitches, but I’m just glad and blessed I was able to go out there and do something today.”

In the fifth, the Yanks lost a challenge on a DJ LeMahieu popout that coaches believed touched the screen behind home plate, leaving Boone unable to question a catcher’s interference call on Taylor Walls in the home half. Home-plate umpire Vic Carapazza eventually thumbed Boone, his seventh ejection of the year.

“There was some frustration there,” Boone said.

Judge’s hustle keyed a second run, as he doubled off Ryan Yarbrough to open the seventh inning, then dashed to third base on a LeMahieu grounder to the left side of the infield before Oswaldo Cabrera greeted J.T. Chargois with a sacrifice fly.

That run proved important when Holmes wobbled in the ninth, with the All-Star seeking his first save since July 22. David Peralta doubled and scored on Francisco Mejia’s pinch-hit single. After a Jonathan Aranda two-out double, Holmes dug deep to find some extra ‘oomph’ on a full-count pitch with the game on the line.

“I was just going to let it rip,” Holmes said. “If he was going to beat me, he was going to beat me on my best bullet. It came out pretty good.”