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Judge maturing before our eyes in ALCS

Following tough ALDS, Yanks rookie reverts to slugging ways
MLB.com @feinsand

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge's smile said it all.

The rookie sat in the interview room following the Yankees' 6-4 win over the Astros on Tuesday in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, trying his best to stay as focused as he was during the game itself.

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NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge's smile said it all.

The rookie sat in the interview room following the Yankees' 6-4 win over the Astros on Tuesday in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, trying his best to stay as focused as he was during the game itself.

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Don't let the highs get too high, they tell you. There's another game Wednesday.

As Judge discussed his big night, which included a solo home run in the seventh that got the Yankees on the board and a game-tying RBI double in the eighth that shook Yankee Stadium with delight, the 25-year-old couldn't help but grin. In that instant, one remembered that he's just a (really) big kid playing a kid's game at the highest level possible.

"It's pretty surreal, to be honest," Judge said. "I haven't reflected on tonight's game yet, but as a kid, I've been in that situation in my head a thousand times. Through the Minor Leagues, all your daily batting practice, your cage work, I'm putting myself in that situation; get out there and get the job done. I've been in that situation a thousand times.

Video: ALCS Gm4: Judge, Sanchez fuel comeback win in Game 4

"But the dreams aren't the same as reality. To be out with the crowd and the atmosphere, it was unbelievable."

The reality for Judge is that he and Gary Sanchez, the two Baby Bombers whose thunderous bats lifted the Yankees to a series-evening win, have New York only two wins from the World Series.

After losing the first two games of the AL Division Series, it looked as though Judge's first postseason would be chalked up as a good learning experience. Even when the Yanks stormed back to win three straight elimination games against the Indians, Judge finished that series 1-for-20 with 16 strikeouts, lost amid a steady diet of breaking balls that had him looking dazed and confused.

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But just as he shook off a horrific August to post a memorable September, Judge wasn't about to let five bad days dictate his entire October.

"It's unbelievable the way he can turn the page," CC Sabathia said. "That's rare in a young kid. To have the playoffs go the way they did at the start and for him to come back and have huge at-bats, play great defense, it shows a lot about his character."

Call it maturity, call it whatever you want; Judge is coming of age right before our eyes -- and doing so on the biggest stage in baseball.

Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander kept Judge off-balance in the first two games of the ALCS presented by Camping World, but the slugger woke up Monday night in Game 3, drilling a three-run homer that helped the Yankees build a sizeable lead.

Tuesday, Judge's big swing to start the seventh knocked Lance McCullers Jr. out of the game, something that must have thrilled the Yanks after the right-hander had dominated them over the first six innings.

The home run broke the ice for the Yankees. That it came on a breaking ball may have done the same for Judge.

"He's seen plenty of them, that's for sure; he's been breaking-balled to death," David Robertson said. "They've chewed him up for a little while, but it seems like he's fed up with it."

Video: ALCS Gm4: Judge on his big night at plate, comeback

Judge stepped to the plate with one out in the eighth against Houston closer Ken Giles, the tying run standing just 90 feet from home. Giles fell behind, 2-1, with three sliders, then got Judge to foul off a 100-mph fastball to even the count.

"I was looking for a heater up out of the zone," Judge said. "Once it gets to two strikes it's time to battle, put something in play and try to get the job done."

Giles came back with another slider -- no surprise there -- but Judge crushed it off the left-field wall, scoring Jacoby Ellsbury on the double to tie the game.

Video: ALCS Gm4: Judge ties game with an RBI double in 8th

Two breaking balls, two huge hits. Look out, world.

"I've been feeling good the whole postseason," Judge said. "I'm not swinging at the right breaking balls. You never hit a good one. You never hit a good slider or curveball; you just try to go after the mistakes. Tonight, I was able to get a couple of mistakes and do some damage with them."

From Judge's professionalism to his enthusiasm to his ability to block out the noise that comes with playing in New York, the comparisons to Derek Jeter have hovered around him throughout his rookie season.

A few more October nights like the one Judge had Tuesday and the Jeter talk will only get louder. Sabathia, who played with Jeter from 2009-14, isn't buying the Judge-Jeter talk. There's no need for comparisons when you're blazing your own impressive trail.

"He doesn't have to be Jeet; he's Aaron Judge," Sabathia said. "He's the catalyst of this team."

Video: ALCS Gm4: Judge on clutch hits, win in Game 4

Halfway through October, Judge and the Yanks are halfway to the most improbable pennant in the franchise's rich history. The road there doesn't get any easier, though, as they'll need to beat either Keuchel or Verlander in order to finish off the Astros.

"This whole year has been a grind," Judge said. "The ups and downs, that's baseball life. That's what I live for, play for. To a certain extent, I enjoy failure. It's part of the game. There's always room to grow, there's room to improve.

"So it's been a fun ride. And it's my first year; still pretty crazy."

Thanks to Judge, that ride appears to be far from over.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.

New York Yankees, Aaron Judge