NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge watched his deep drive soar high into the pitch-black sky, breaking into his second home run trot of the night. His eighth-inning moonshot eventually fell into the left-field seats, and on that trip around the bases, the Yankees star said he could only think about one thing: the privilege of playing in this game, on this date, in this city.
On an emotional evening rich with callbacks to an awful September two decades prior, Judge embraced Mike Piazza’s role as the modern-day star delivering the big swing, homering twice to lead the Yankees to an 8-7 victory over the Mets at Citi Field -- the first Subway Series game played on Sept. 11.
“It means the world to me,” Judge said. “This was for the city. This was for Yankees fans, for everybody affected on this day. This was more than just a baseball game tonight. I grew up in California, but my heart and my soul are in New York.”
The Yankees snapped their season-high seven-game losing streak behind Judge’s 31st and 32nd home runs, tying the game as Judge launched a Trevor May changeup 413 feet over the wall in left field. Shortly after, Mets second baseman Javier Báez committed a throwing error on a potential inning-ending double-play ball, allowing Andrew Velazquez to slide home safely with the go-ahead run.
Judge also contributed with his glove, making a lunging catch in the ninth inning that stole a hit from Báez. The play proved pivotal when closer Aroldis Chapman permitted a pinch-hit double to J.D. Davis, saw the potential tying run advance on a strikeout that bounced away from catcher Kyle Higashioka, then finally induced a James McCann flyout to -- who else? -- Judge.
“It was huge,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “It’s been a struggle sometimes for us, getting that final hit to put us over the hump, but it was a huge night by Aaron. Just a special night by a great player. It definitely feels good to hear some noise in that clubhouse postgame.”
Judge’s performance came one night after the Yankees held their second team meeting in a week, called after a disheartening 10-3 drubbing at the hands of their crosstown rivals. Judge said that “quite a few guys wanted to talk and say a couple of things,” noting that Higashioka, Velazquez and right-hander Corey Kluber were among those to speak.
“The biggest thing was to remind guys we’re still in the playoff hunt,” Judge said. “The world is not crashing down on us. Remind everybody who they are, who we are. We’re the New York Yankees. It’s an honor and a privilege to get the chance to wear these pinstripes and play for this team. When you’re getting to September baseball in New York, that’s where it’s fun.”
The pregame ceremony was appropriately stirring and moving, seeing the Yankees embrace their crosstown rivals as “one unified New York” -- a scene reminiscent of the hugs that the Mets and Braves exchanged when professional sports returned to the city, 10 days after clear skies over Lower Manhattan were pierced by carnage.
Piazza had been one of the city’s most prominent stars then, delivering in a crucial moment and etching what he’d later call his most meaningful home run into the historical record. Judge was a 9-year-old eating breakfast in the kitchen of his Linden, Calif., home when the world changed.
“You can go around the whole clubhouse and ask where each guy was at that moment, and they can tell you exactly what they were doing when they heard the news,” Judge said. “It was just good to have everybody together for the city.”
With both clubs wearing caps honoring first responders who raced to the World Trade Center that day, the Yankees hit three home runs in a five-run second inning against starter Taijuan Walker. Higashioka and Gardner hit two-run homers, and Judge connected for a solo blast. Walker silenced the Yanks from there, retiring the final 13 batters he faced in his six innings.
“We definitely needed [a win],” Gardner said. “We needed it a few days ago, but it didn’t come until today. It’s nice to get back on the right track.”
New York, New York
An enthusiastic sold-out crowd of 43,144 swapped chants of “Let’s Go Yankees,” “Let’s Go Mets” and “U-S-A” throughout the evening, and they were treated to 15 runs in a game that ticked just shy of the four-hour mark. The Mets peppered Kluber for four runs over four innings, including a Báez homer in the third inning that made it a one-run game.
Chad Green surrendered a two-run homer to James McCann in the sixth inning, giving the Mets a lead, and Clay Holmes allowed a run-scoring hit in the seventh to Kevin Pillar. Judge -- whose performance this season deserves consideration on MVP ballots -- tied the game with his eighth-inning blast, allowing the Yanks to take advantage of Báez’s miscue.
“I believe in this team,” Judge said. “We’ve got a great group of guys in this clubhouse -- guys that have won World Series, guys that have had long playoff runs. I know when it comes down to playoff time, a lot of teams aren’t going to be wanting to play the Yankees.”