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Didi's slam makes Judge's '2nd' HR stand up

@BryanHoch
July 17, 2019

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge tracked the flight of his eighth-inning drive as it spun toward the 314-foot marker in right field, expecting that it would tail to the right of the foul pole. Indeed, the masses on hand at Yankee Stadium groaned when the ball arced a few seats

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge tracked the flight of his eighth-inning drive as it spun toward the 314-foot marker in right field, expecting that it would tail to the right of the foul pole. Indeed, the masses on hand at Yankee Stadium groaned when the ball arced a few seats wide.

A happy customer cradled the souvenir and Judge returned to the batter's box, preparing for Colin Poche to try another fastball. The resulting drive exploded off of the slugger's bat and provided the Yankees with their first lead of the evening, sparking a six-run rally in an 8-3 victory over the Rays on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.

Box score

"Once it goes foul, you've got to brush it off and take a deep breath and focus on the next pitch," Judge said. "It's an important pitch. He's got a good fastball that a lot of guys were fouling off, that plays up in the zone. I just tried to find one down in the zone I could drive."

Didi Gregorius blew the game open later in the frame by launching his fourth career grand slam, representing the shortstop's biggest hit of his injury-shortened season to date. Edwin Encarnacion and DJ LeMahieu also homered as the Yankees restored their lead in the American League East to six games, scoring all of their runs via the homer.

"I finally came through for the team," Gregorius said. "I’ve been in situations and couldn’t come through. I was finally able to come through, especially against the lefty. That makes it even better."

The Judge sequence was eerily similar to one in the eighth inning of Monday’s series opener, when Encarnacion followed a long foul drive with his second home run of the game. That was reduced to a footnote when Aroldis Chapman coughed up the lead, one strike away from victory.

"Pretty, pretty big," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "Another big comeback win, especially after going home after last night."

Gleyber Torres opened the eighth with a walk, but Poche retired the next two hitters, bringing Judge to the plate with a runner on and two outs. Judge worked the count full, slugging his foul “homer” on a 3-2 count, then launching Poche's 95.6-mph heater for his second go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later this season (also July 5 at St. Petersburg).

"I try to hit the pitch where it's pitched," Judge said. "If it's away, I'll go away. If it's in, I pull it. Just depends on the pitch."

Luke Voit followed with a single and Gary Sánchez doubled before the Rays intentionally walked Encarnacion, loading the bases for Gregorius. Boone had said that he did not believe Gregorius' stroke was far off, despite a slump over which Gregorius had one hit across 23 at-bats (.043) as he heard his name announced in the eighth inning.

Poche's 1-2 pitch to Gregorius was a fastball out of the strike zone, but it did not sail high enough. The shortstop sparked bedlam by swatting the offering into the right-field seats for the Yanks' fourth grand slam of the season, following Torres' June 19 blast at Tropicana Field.

"You pass the baton and just keep fighting," Gregorius said. "I had two strikes, and I was able to put a good swing on a high pitch, and it went out. It felt pretty good to come through, finally."

If it feels like these division rivals have seen plenty of each other, it is because they have. CC Sabathia acknowledged that there is "no love lost" between himself and the Rays, having briefly cleared benches in the sixth inning after engaging in an on-field argument with Avisail Garcia.

"It’s a good team," Sabathia said. "They are really good, right there with us. We’re battling for the division, so all the games are going to be intense."

Judge said that it was possible that the late surge had something to do with Sabathia's outburst, with the Bombers' bats having been limited to Encarnacion's homer through five innings, providing meager support as Sabathia allowed three runs and five hits over six frames.

"He'll fire us up when we need it," Judge said of Sabathia. "We needed it tonight, and he did that for us."

In addition, Judge lauded the relief appearance by David Hale, who entered a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh and induced Travis d'Arnaud to hit into an inning-ending double play.

"Having the bases loaded and facing that lineup, one of the best teams in the league, that's very rare you ever come out with no runs," Judge said. "He did his job, and we had to do our job."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.