Judge quiets Toronto with 4-HR series (nearly 5!)

Yankees' MVP hits 12th homer of year, sets club mark with 32nd vs. Blue Jays

May 19th, 2023

TORONTO -- chose his words carefully, as always, but he was peeved about plenty during this eventful visit to Rogers Centre. At the top of the list was the fallout of a much-scrutinized sideways glance during Monday’s series opener; to his team’s delight, he took his frustrations out on the Blue Jays’ pitching staff.

Judge crushed another homer and narrowly missed a second, wrapping a four-game set where he performed at an “MVP-ish” level, as manager Aaron Boone put it. Judge cleared the fences four times and drove in seven runs as the Yankees took three of four games from their division rivals, posting a 4-2 victory on Thursday evening.

“I’m just trying to do my job,” Judge said. “I was upset, but nothing I can do about that. I’ve still got to go out there and play.”

The drama began with Judge’s sideways peek toward his team’s dugout while batting in the eighth inning on Monday evening, stoking the Jays’ suspicions of sign-stealing and sparking an online firestorm of mostly ridiculous conspiracy theories.

Judge and Boone both bristled at the suggestion that the Yankees had done anything outside of the rule books, though their initial explanation that Judge was eyeing a few loud teammates held less water once Toronto’s Jay Jackson -- since demoted to Triple-A Buffalo -- admitted that he was unintentionally tipping pitches and the Yanks had picked up his tell.

“For us to win that first game, it caused so much drama that [the Blue Jays] were focused on other things besides winning ballgames,” said , who went 3-for-4 with a double and one RBI in Thursday’s win.

As Judge said this week, people can say what they want -- and the home crowd sure did, booing Judge early and often. He responded by continuing to mash, belting a go-ahead two-run homer on Tuesday, then providing Nestor Cortes with a near-instant lead on Thursday, powering a two-run shot in the first inning off José Berríos.

“We were focused on what we could control between the lines,” Judge said. “We did a pretty good job blocking out all the noise and distractions of the whole series. We just went out there and took care of our business.”

Judge’s 32 homers against the Blue Jays (in 102 career games) are the most by any Yankee, surpassing Jorge Posada (31, in 186 games).

The reigning AL MVP came inches from adding another long ball in the sixth, taking another Berríos offering to center, where it struck the top of the outfield wall and bounced back into play. Judge stopped at second, then was waved home, only to be returned to second by review.

In all, Judge reached base safely in 11 of 19 plate appearances during the Toronto series, batting .429 (6-for-14) with a double, four homers, seven RBIs and five walks.

“He’s motivated by what we’re going through as a team right now,” Boone said. “I’ve said over and over again how well I think this team is competing, and he’s in the middle of that. He understands we’re in a tough stretch here, with games every day against big-time opponents. He understands how important he is to that. I’m glad he had that kind of a series.”

The Yanks won for the 11th time in 16 games behind a return to form from Cortes, who navigated six-plus innings of two-run ball with Boone -- cautiously handling an overtaxed bullpen -- pouring his trust into what he described as “Nestor and the Funky Bunch.”

Bo Bichette touched Cortes in the first inning for a solo homer, but the lefty settled in to scatter five hits and one walk, striking out six. It was a significant step forward for Cortes, who’d pitched to an 0-2 record and an 8.53 ERA across his previous four starts, saying that his inability to navigate deep into games had been the “story of my season.”

“I feel like we’re rolling now,” Cortes said. “I feel like we’re playing really good baseball. The dugout is coming alive.”

With Clay Holmes, Wandy Peralta, Michael King and Jimmy Cordero all unavailable, the ball went to Ryan Weber in the seventh; the laidback righty dipped, dived and dodged the Jays, yielding only a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. sacrifice fly.

“I don’t throw hard, so I kind of have the same persona as how I pitch,” Weber said. “An out is an out.”

Albert Abreu, who’d allowed a run in his previous three appearances, offered a perfect eighth. Anthony Volpe tagged Nate Pearson for a solo homer, his seventh, providing breathing room as Ron Marinaccio worked a seven-pitch ninth for his first career save.

“There were a couple of extra heartbeats, but anytime you go out there, you’re just trying to get a zero for your team,” Marinaccio said. “Just end the game and get out of here with the series.”