NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge -- and the Yankees, considering how important he is to their lineup -- needed this one. In the series finale against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Sunday night, he connected in a big way, reclaiming sole possession of the American League lead in home runs with his 38th of the year.
Judge, mired in a prolonged second-half slump after his MVP-caliber first half, hadn't homered since Aug. 16. When he stepped in against Boston reliever Addison Reed in the bottom of the sixth inning of the Yankees' 9-2 win, it had been 15 games and 69 plate appearances since Judge had gone deep, his longest homerless stretch of the season. Judge had struck out in his first two at-bats Sunday against Chris Sale, and grounded out the previous inning.
And then he went deep in the way few others can. Judge crushed a fastball from Reed deep into the left-field stands -- according to Statcast™, his home run had an exit velocity of 115.1 mph, and traveled a projected 469 feet.
"Good sign," manager Joe Girardi said. "It's kind of hard to evaluate at-bats, sometimes, against the Corey Klubers and the Chris Sales of the world, but I think his at-bats have been better."
This was Judge's second-longest tracked home run of his career, behind only his monster 495-foot shot that cleared the Yankee Stadium bleachers earlier in the year. It was Judge's ninth home run hit 115 mph or harder this season, the most of any hitter in the Majors, ahead of Giancarlo Stanton's six.
As his strikeout total skyrocketed and his contact dropped after the All-Star break, Judge had finally, temporarily, ceded his lock on the top spot of the league home run leaderboard in the first days of September. The Rangers' Joey Gallo tied him at 37 on Friday, and A's slugger Khris Davis followed suit on Saturday.
Now, after providing the final blow in the Yankees' big win, Judge is on top again. The Yankees hope it's a good omen for the final month of the season, as they fight to overtake the Red Sox in the American League East, or at the least hold off the rest of the field for an AL Wild Card slot.
"He's leading the league in homers. I don't think he should be too down on himself," teammate Matthew Holliday said. "He's such a special person. I think he's got a very good handle on how to handle things for such a young guy.
"When you're that big and strong and talented, eventually you're gonna start hitting home runs again. So I'm excited -- I think he's gonna go on a run for us."