'I'm feeling good': Judge avoids injury, ignites Yankees win on birthday

April 26th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Yankees’ summer hopes flickered as hurried down the dugout runway on Wednesday afternoon, his right wrist aching after being tagged out on an awkward second-inning slide.

Judge flexed his right hand repeatedly upon return, engaging in stone-faced conversation while the action continued. Would he bat again? Could he? That suspense held until Judge returned to home plate two innings later, with the reigning American League Most Valuable Player adding a third hit to his 31st birthday performance in a 12-6 rout of the Twins at Target Field.

“There was some talk [about coming out of the game], but we ended those pretty quick,” Judge said. “You can either play or you can’t play. So I was able to play. I’m feeling good.”

With that, the Yankees could exhale in more ways than one. Held to eight runs over the previous five games, the scuffling lineup busted out to eclipse its season high for runs scored (11, on April 11 at Cleveland).

Judge and each drove in three runs to pace the outburst against Twins starter Kenta Maeda, who was thrashed for 10 runs and 11 hits in three-plus innings.  later added a two-run homer, his third of the season.

“When you’re going through a stretch where you’re having a real hard time scoring runs, it’s nice to break through and put some crooked ones up there,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “That definitely does everybody well and makes you feel good.”

But the day’s focus revolved around Judge, who showed signs of a sprouting offensive surge after seeing his bat go cold on the Bombers’ recent homestand.

Judge doubled in his first at-bat, then followed a Volpe run-scoring hit with a bases-clearing double in New York’s five-run second inning. Judge then attempted to steal third base, where he was thrown out by catcher Christian Vázquez, tumbling into the bag on a headfirst dive.

“I was mad I got thrown out, first off,” Judge said. “I was just trying to make something happen and get to third base. I thought I had a good jump, and getting thrown out is pretty embarrassing, even on your birthday.”

It was unclear at the time if Judge -- serving as the Yanks’ designated hitter -- would be able to take his next at-bat. As Judge and his No. 99 jersey disappeared down the runway, two athletic trainers followed closely.

A few minutes passed before Judge returned to the dugout, at one point utilizing a massage gun on his hand and wrist. Boone and Judge spoke briefly; Judge assured Boone that he could bat, and so he did.

“He said, ‘I should have got to third,’” said. “That was really it.”

Judge worked a fourth-inning walk against Maeda, fouling a pitch back with no apparent discomfort. Rizzo followed with a two-run double, part of a six-run frame that staked right-hander Domingo Germán to a sizable advantage.

“We’ve been grinding offensively collectively, so to put up two big innings there, I liked the way we did it,” Rizzo said. “Getting guys on, a couple of bunts for hits or sac bunts that worked out. We just kept the line moving.”

Facing Brent Headrick in the fifth, Judge laced a sharp single to left field, then struck out looking in the eighth. Judge is one of just three Yankees to notch three or more hits and three or more RBIs on his birthday, joining Lou Gehrig (June 19, 1929 vs. Boston; June 19, 1935 at Detroit) and Jerry Mumphrey (Sept. 9, 1981 vs. Milwaukee).

Judge has played in all 25 of the club’s games so far this season, and it would not be surprising to see Judge rest at least once during the upcoming four-game series against the Rangers; Boone mentioned that possibility even before Wednesday’s game.

Considering how the second-inning play could have turned out, Judge seemed relieved to be celebrating -- his latest trip around the sun, sure, but also his health and a fresh victory.

“It would have been a sad birthday, I think, if we’d gotten swept here in Minnesota,” Judge said. “The guys showed up; they went out there and did their job. We’ve got to build off this and keep it going against a good team in Texas.”