Webb, Giants tip cap to Judge: 'Best hitter in baseball'

March 30th, 2023

NEW YORK -- Last week, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said he thought the Giants’ failed free-agent pursuit for reigning American League MVP  would provide “a little extra motivation” during the club’s Opening Day matchup against the Yankees.

“Any sense that people feel like this was a player we needed and we can’t win without him just creates extra motivation,” Zaidi said.

But Judge quickly reminded the Giants of what they missed on Thursday afternoon, launching a first-inning solo home run off right-hander  to set the tone in San Francisco’s 5-0 loss to New York at Yankee Stadium.

Judge, who was named the Yankees’ captain after signing a nine-year, $360 million megadeal that matched the best offer extended by the Giants, blasted the second pitch he saw from Webb a Statcast-projected 422 feet out to center field, flashing the premier power that made him such a coveted free-agent target this past offseason.

“I think he’s the best hitter in baseball,” said Webb, who was charged with four runs over six-plus innings in his second consecutive Opening Day start for San Francisco. “Obviously, it would have been nice to have him, but he’s not [here]. I wish I could have that pitch back.”

Judge’s blast was one of two homers surrendered by Webb, who set a Giants Opening Day record with a career-high 12 strikeouts but didn’t get much support from his offense, which struck out 16 times against ace right-hander Gerrit Cole and three Yankees relievers. Gleyber Torres added a two-run shot off Webb in the fourth, marking only the third time in Webb’s career that he’s allowed multiple home runs in a game.

“I think Logan pitched about as good a game as he could have hoped and all of us could have hoped,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I thought he attacked the strike zone with all of his pitches. It was as efficient as we’ve seen him in a long time. A lot of swing-and-miss. Excellent outing by Logan. Really good swing by Judge on that fastball. The two homers beat us today.”

Webb was among the Giants players who tried to recruit Judge over the offseason, and he has said he felt Judge’s interest in San Francisco was sincere. The Giants pulled out all the stops when Judge visited Oracle Park in late November, but the Linden, Calif., native ultimately passed up the opportunity to return home and suit up for the team he grew up rooting for as a child.

“The talks were great,” Judge said. “I met a lot of great people with the Giants. It’s a great organization that I’ve followed since I was a kid. It was kind of a dream come true getting a chance to speak to them and getting an opportunity to go there. In the end, it worked out for me to come back to the Yankees. I’m happy with my decision. I’m wishing them nothing but the best over there in San Fran.

“It would have been nice to be home in California and be a little closer to family, but this city has kind of become my family.”

After striking out on Judge and shortstop Carlos Correa, whose 13-year, $350 million deal fell apart due to medical concerns, the Giants pivoted by bringing in free agents Michael Conforto, Mitch Haniger, Taylor Rogers, Sean Manaea, Ross Stripling and Luke Jackson. But even with those additions, there are still questions about whether they accomplished enough to keep up with the star-driven Padres and Dodgers in the loaded National League West.

The Giants are hoping their improved depth will help them overcome their superstar void, but Thursday was a stark reminder of the way a generational talent like Judge can carry a team throughout the regular season.

“I haven’t thought about it one time,” Kapler said of his club’s unsuccessful push for Judge. “Right now, Aaron Judge is on the Yankees. Our goal is to get him out as many times as we possibly can. He’s a great player. It’s likely that he does something good in the series and probably has a great season for the Yankees.”