Celebrations will have to wait for Judge, Yankees

Slugger still at 60 HRs after walk-off loss that keeps New York from clinching AL East

September 27th, 2022

TORONTO -- With another four trips to home plate already under ’s belt, none of them producing a deep drive that the world has been waiting for, opportunity knocked late on Monday evening. Finally, he had a moment where no one on the Yankees’ bench would have been overtly pulling for a ball to land in the seats. A hit was all they needed.

Bubbly was on ice somewhere in the bowels of Rogers Centre, the visitors oh so close to popping corks and celebrating their clinch of an American League East title. But the Blue Jays spoiled that party, sending Judge to first base with an intentional walk, then escaping to hand the Yankees a 3-2 walk-off loss in 10 innings.

“Game on the line; that’s where you want to hit,” Judge said. “That’s why I’m doing all the work, to put myself in a position to go out there and help the team out and help us get a win right there. But I trust every single guy in our lineup and every single guy on our bench.”

Kept in the ballpark for a sixth consecutive game (his third-longest drought of the season), Judge’s pursuit of Roger Maris’ single-season American League record of 61 home runs and the Bombers’ chase for their first division crown since 2019 must both wait at least another day.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. delivered a game-winning hit off Clarke Schmidt in the 10th as New York’s magic number for the AL East -- and the No. 2 playoff seed -- remains at two.

“Hopefully, we do it [Tuesday],” said Yankees manager Aaron Boone.

With the clubs knotted at 2-2 through nine innings, Isiah Kiner-Falefa worked a one-out walk to place runners at first and second base with one out. Anthony Bass struck out Jose Trevino for the second out, and Toronto called upon left-hander Tim Mayza -- to Boone, a clear indication that the Jays had no intention of pitching to the right-handed Judge.

In fact, Blue Jays manager John Schneider said he told home-plate umpire Laz Diaz not to ask for a batch of specially-marked baseballs: “You don’t have to change them out. We’re just going to walk him.” Diaz still followed protocol and requested the balls.

Said Judge: “You never know. I don’t think I’ve been hitting lefties well all year. You never know what the analytics are going to say. You’ve got to stay locked in. You can’t think you’re going to get walked, then step into the box and face 98 [mph].”

Judge was sent to first base, loading the bases for Anthony Rizzo, who chopped a grounder to first base that Guerrero smothered for the final out.

“Anthony Rizzo, day in and day out throughout this whole season, has always come up in big spots,” Judge said. “Today, he didn’t do it. He’ll show up tomorrow and get it done.”

Judge finished the evening 1-for-3 with one run scored, two strikeouts and two walks. Since hitting his 60th homer last Tuesday against the Pirates, Judge is 5-for-18 (.278) with eight walks.

“As a pitcher, no one wants to be the one to give up No. 61,” said Yankees starter Luis Severino. “They have to be careful with him because he’s a power hitter having a great season.”

During this historic campaign, it has been uncommon -- but not unprecedented -- for Judge to go a week without clearing the fences. He had nine straight games without a homer from Aug. 13-21, and seven games without one from April 14-21.

“I just don’t want to be an answer to a trivia question,” said Blue Jays right-hander Kevin Gausman. “Obviously, he’s a great player. He’s had an unbelievable season, so you pitch him smart. I’ll take my chances facing some of the other guys.”

With a first-inning single off Gausman, Judge extended his on-base streak to 25 games, the longest by a Yankee this year. Rizzo doubled and Gleyber Torres lifted a sacrifice fly to bring Judge home. Kiner-Falefa added a second-inning homer, his fourth.

Playing behind Severino, Kiner-Falefa had a chance at a double-play ball in the fourth inning on Guerrero’s hard grounder, which was scored as a hit. The missed opportunity proved costly as Teoscar Hernández banged a game-tying double off the wall, just one more reason there was no wet and wild celebration in the visiting clubhouse on Monday.

“We just focus on winning a game, and whatever happens after, we can celebrate or not celebrate,” Judge said. “We treat every single game as if it was a postseason game: the first game of the year, even this game tonight. Nothing really changes.”