NEW YORK -- The cool-down period after a tough defeat is not usually the time to celebrate what went right in the previous nine innings, though in boiling down a loss that he described as “peculiar,” Gerrit Cole couldn’t help but crack a broad grin when describing Aaron Judge’s recent power surge.
Judge extended his Major League long ball lead to 17, clearing the fences in the first and fifth innings of the Yankees’ 6-4 loss to the Orioles on Monday. Far from taking his service for granted, the Bombers are enjoying their front-row seats as Judge continues his assault upon big league pitching.
“Sometimes I feel like he’s salivating for something, gets it, and drills it,” Cole said. “And sometimes I feel like he’s just being a good baseball player, staying up the middle, and drills it the same way. Not all the things are going his way; he’s not looking for slug all the time. He’s just putting better swings than guys are throwing. He’s just -- better.”
Judge cracked a solo home run in the first inning and a two-run blast in the fifth, both off Baltimore starter Jordan Lyles, as he punishes opponents at an MVP-level pace. Judge’s 17th homer gave him five more than any other big leaguer, with the Astros’ Yordan Alvarez and the Angels’ Mike Trout each with 12.
“I’m just trying to do my job, just like everybody else in this building,” Judge said. “I’ve got a job to do at the top of the lineup. I’ve got a lot of great hitters around me, which makes my job a lot easier. With the pitching staff we’ve got and what they’re able to do, I just try to go out there and just do my job.”
Monday marked Judge’s fourth multi-homer game of the season, six days after he narrowly missed a three-homer game on May 17 at Baltimore. Judge’s 20 career multi-homer games are the second most in Major League history through 612 career games, trailing only Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner (24).
Batting .325 with a 1.113 OPS, Judge is the fifth player in Yankees history to hit at least 17 homers through the team’s first 42 games of a season, joining Babe Ruth (1928, ’30), Mickey Mantle (1956), Tino Martinez (1997) and Alex Rodríguez (2007).
“It’s really special,” said manager Aaron Boone. “Sometimes I take him for granted, I think, but not right now. He’s a really special player, and he’s obviously really carrying us offensively right now.”
And yet, if not for one funky inning, Judge would have been able to enjoy his contributions more. Cole’s final pitching line was a head scratcher, one that warranted a brief postgame debriefing with some teammates and members of the coaching staff.
Cole struck out 11 and walked none in a 110-pitch effort, yet finished on the wrong side of the decision, permitting five runs and seven hits. Baltimore peppered Cole for four runs in the third inning, highlighted by Robinson Chirinos’ RBI double and a two-run Austin Hays single.
“That inning is tough to digest,” Cole said. “That’s unfortunate, but there were seven really nice innings. The natural instinct is not to brush it off, because it’s a brutal undesirable result. But at the same time, we’re sitting here -- in terms of what we can control -- frustrated about less than a handful of pitches.”
Said Boone: “It was a weird night tonight, where Gerrit was -- really, for the most part, dominant -- except that string for five to seven minutes.”
Judge’s second homer of the evening tied the score, but Cole gave back the advantage in the sixth, when Ramón Urías teed off for a go-ahead blast. Baltimore padded its lead in the eighth on Chirinos’ sac fly, and New York couldn’t get Judge back to the plate in the ninth inning.
Still off to one of the best starts in franchise history, the Yankees have lost three consecutive games for the first time this season, dealing with, as Cole said, “a little bit of adversity, for sure.”
There have been injuries (Chad Green, Luis Gil), assignments to the COVID-19 list (Josh Donaldson, Joey Gallo, Kyle Higashioka) and potential distractions (Donaldson’s suspension following a tiff with Tim Anderson of the White Sox).
Amidst all that, Judge said that “nothing really stands out too much” to him about the skid -- one that he surely doesn’t expect to last.
“Yesterday we had a tough doubleheader against a good [White Sox] team,” Judge said. “Today we got the offense going early and you’re playing against the Orioles, who scraped out some big-time hits with guys on base. We just couldn’t get that rally back late to secure a win.”