Judge hits 2 homers -- but should it have been 3?

May 18th, 2022

BALTIMORE -- trotted while tracking his first-inning drive on Tuesday evening, seemingly confident that he’d barreled enough of the baseball to reach the left-field seats. But that was only true in the old Camden Yards, before the Orioles aimed to neutralize right-handed power by pushing back the left-field wall 26 1/2 feet this past offseason.

Judge’s drive smacked near the top of the 13-foot barrier, seeing him ultimately thrown out at third base on a run-scoring double. He slapped his chest in frustration, then took it out on the Orioles’ pitching staff for the rest of the night, belting two homers while leading the Yankees to a 5-4 victory.

“I knew it didn’t have a chance, but I was hoping for good old times’ sake tonight, it might get out,” Judge said. “I learned my lesson and decided to go to right field after that.”

The Major League home run leader with 14, Judge slugged a solo 410-foot shot to right-center field in the third inning off Spenser Watkins, then went deep to straightaway center field in the fifth for a 422-footer off reliever Joey Krehbiel.

It was Judge’s third multi-homer game of the year and the 19th of his career, finishing oh-so-close to the first three-homer contest of his career.

“Wow,” manager Aaron Boone said. “He got almost three, but build-your-own-park got him there. It was a special night. He was on the attack early in the counts, got some pitches and left no doubt with some balls. A great night for him, no question.”

No Yankee has hit 14 homers through the team’s first 36 games of a season since Judge in 2017, a year he went on to lead the American League with 52 homers and unanimously won the AL’s Rookie of the Year Award. Judge later roped an eighth-inning single, enjoying his third career four-hit performance.

“It’s not surprising at this point,” said Yankees starter Jameson Taillon. “It feels like every time I pitch, he’s doing something amazing. Four hits, a couple of homers, another ball that’s probably a homer in every other park, a couple of good defensive plays. I’m getting spoiled watching him. Every at-bat is competitive and he’s always up there grinding.”

Added Orioles manager Brandon Hyde: “He hurts us. He's done that in the past, too. You make pitches [in the] middle to him and he's got a chance to go deep every time. Aaron, he's a really good player, a superstar-type player. We’ve just got to pitch to him a little bit better.”

Though Judge is batting .349 (29-for-83) with 13 homers and 28 RBIs over his last 21 games and heard serenades of “M-V-P!” from a largely pro-Yankees crowd of 12,635 in Baltimore, the slugger has repeatedly said that he does not yet feel locked in -- a stance that he reiterated on Tuesday.

“It’s just about quality at-bats,” Judge said. “I can’t control the outcome. I can’t control if I hit a homer or line out at somebody four times. It’s just about me making sure I’m sticking with my plan, swinging at the right pitches, moving a guy over if I need to or driving a guy in if I need to. I’d drive myself crazy if I was searching for results this whole game.”

There was still the matter of the first-inning double, which Statcast calculated at 399 feet, noting that it would have left the 29 other Major League parks. In announcing the stadium modification this past January, the Orioles called it “a significant step toward neutrality.” Judge offered a saltier take.

“It’s a travesty, man,” Judge said. “I’m pretty upset. It looks like a create-a-park now. I didn’t like it, because I always liked coming here and playing here. Hopefully, in a couple of years, they can move it back in. We’ll see.”

Taillon held the O’s to three runs over five-plus innings, allowing six hits while walking one and striking out two. New York pushed ahead in the sixth on DJ LeMahieu’s run-scoring groundout, then extended the advantage in the seventh as Gleyber Torres slapped a grounder past shortstop Ramón Urías for a run-scoring error.

Michael King fired three perfect innings in relief, striking out six, before Baltimore dented a wobbly Aroldis Chapman for a run in the ninth. Chapman recovered to induce Cedric Mullins to foul out with two men aboard, sealing his ninth save in as many opportunities.

“Maybe just a tick off,” Boone said of Chapman. “He’s on the attack, though.”

At 27-9, the Yankees are off to their best start since 1998 (also 27-9), a season in which they won 114 games and defeated the Padres in a World Series sweep.

“It’s fun with this team,” Judge said. “We want to be out there every single day. We want to play two games a night if we could. Just try to keep everything simple and play our game. We’ve got a special group here. Right now, no one is trying to do too much. Good things happen when you do that."