NEW YORK -- With the temperature unseasonably cold (54 degrees at first pitch) for early June and the howling wind making it feel more like football weather, there was heat created within Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night by a classic power vs. power matchup.Standing on the mound for the Red
NEW YORK -- With the temperature unseasonably cold (54 degrees at first pitch) for early June and the howling wind making it feel more like football weather, there was heat created within Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night by a classic power vs. power matchup.
Standing on the mound for the Red Sox was Joe Kelly, who has made triple-digit velocity a regular occurrence this season.
At the plate for the Yankees was Aaron Judge, the prized rookie who has been creating majestic thrills with his big bat this season.
This time, Kelly won out, and so did the Red Sox, who edged out their rivals, 5-4, to move within a game of first place in the American League East.
The highlight of the riveting encounter was a 102.2-mph pitch that Judge somehow fouled back.
In a tense final few innings, the six-pitch, Kelly-Judge at-bat was the most compelling sequence of the night and it ended with the strikeout on a 92.6-mph slider.
The 102.2-mph offering was tied for the fastest pitch in the Majors this season, according to Statcast™. The other pitch at that speed was also delivered by Kelly, on April 28 against Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo.
"That was a good battle right there," said Kelly. "Obviously [Judge] is one of the best hitters in the league right now. Especially in a tie game like that, you've got to be very, very cautious with a guy who's hitting the ball and seeing the ball that well. You've just got to move it around the zone on him a little bit, mix some pitches, try not to give in to the strike zone, because one swing of the bat, you know what can happen there."
When Kelly got back to the dugout following the K, his teammates were buzzing about the 102.2-mph pitch.
"[David Price] told me," said Kelly. "But it wasn't something I was trying to go up there and trying to blow it out. It was just heat of the moment, high-intensity situation. Like I said, he is one of the best hitters in the league. Try to come at him with all my stuff that I have."
Judge, who has made many pitchers tip their caps this season, was doing the hat-tipping this time.
"Well … the guy can throw 104 and then throw you a 92-mph slider," said Judge. "Plus, he's got a good curveball and a changeup. He's a good pitcher, man. He goes out there and competes. He comes right at you. Those are fun at-bats. Those are at-bats you want to have. He just went out there and executed and did his job."
It would be a thrilling at-bat under any circumstance. But in this case, the game was on the line. Judge came to the plate as the tying run with two outs, and here is how Kelly attacked him.
Pitch 1, 101.5-mph for a foul ball. Pitch 2, 101.5-mph ball. Pitch 3, 93.4-mph slider fouled off. Pitch 4, 101.1 for a ball. Pitch 5, the 102.2-mph heat Judge barely fouled back. And then the putaway slider.
"I faced him earlier in the year and I got him with a high heater," said Kelly. "So I think that's something in the back of his mind. He obviously was ready for fastballs and in the back of his mind he doesn't want to get beat on a fastball up so he made really, really good swings. I had to mix in a couple of sliders there to try to keep him off balance a little bit."
While Jackie Bradley Jr.'s mind was on making a play in center field if Judge made contact, he couldn't help but almost feel like a fan as the matchup unfolded.
"Power vs. power," said Bradley. "I was actually surprised at some of the balls that he was catching up with. I was like, 'God, how is Aaron getting to that ball?' That was amazing for him to be so big, and everything is quick, fast, and to have that short swing. Like you said, power against power, and fortunately for us, Joe won that battle."
Kelly has a 1.42 ERA in his first full season as a setup man. And Tuesday's encounter with Judge was his standout moment so far.
"I think any time Aaron Judge walks to the plate, all eyes go to him because of the way he's swinging the bat," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "Joe with just some big-time velocity. Finishes him off with a powerful slider. A classic matchup inside an otherwise well-played game all the way around."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.