NEW YORK -- Once the first pitch of Tuesday's American League Wild Card Game crossed home plate, Aaron Judge took a deep breath from his position in right field, trying to downplay his excitement by telling himself that it was no different than any other night the Yankees had taken
NEW YORK -- Once the first pitch of Tuesday's American League Wild Card Game crossed home plate, Aaron Judge took a deep breath from his position in right field, trying to downplay his excitement by telling himself that it was no different than any other night the Yankees had taken the field this year.
The energy pulsing through Yankee Stadium's levels suggested otherwise, but Judge was still able to slow the game enough to launch his first postseason home run in the Yanks' 8-4 victory over the Twins, helping to send New York to the AL Division Series presented by Doosan vs. Cleveland.
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"Once the first pitch was thrown, it was the same old game that we've been playing since we were little kids," Judge said. "All this stuff, the pregame hype and intros, kind of gets you nervous and gets you excited, gets the blood flowing a little bit. Once that game starts, it's time to go out there and play. It's still the same game."
After setting a record for Major League rookies with an AL-leading 52 homers during the regular season, Judge cracked his first career postseason home run in the fourth inning on Tuesday, a two-run shot off Jose Berrios that extended the Yankees' lead to 7-4.
It was a classic Judge line drive: 108.1 mph off the bat, with a 19-degree launch angle, per Statcast™, that landed a few rows beyond the left-field fence. The blast traveled a projected distance of 386 feet, according to Statcast™.
"I don't remember much. Just a lot of emotions," Judge said. "I was just feeding off the energy of this crowd, you know, our teammates and what we can accomplish this year. We're not done yet, so we've just got to keep it rolling into Cleveland."
Judge's homer put an exclamation point on what had already been an electric back-and-forth game, and it punctuated a comeback effort that began after New York found itself down, 3-0, in the first inning.
"We're just trying to take care of business," Judge said. "We got down early, but we didn't show any panic. We just went out there trying to have quality at-bats and win every pitch. Once we do that, good things will happen."
Judge worked a key at-bat in the first inning, singling to center field off Minnesota starter Ervin Santana to help set up Didi Gregorius' game-tying three-run homer.
"He looked like he hit a pretty good slider down and away," Yanks manager Joe Girardi said. "When I look at Aaron, there's a smile on his face a lot. There's just something about the way he carries himself that you just feel really good when he's around."
New York was up a run when Judge stepped to the plate in the fourth against Berrios following Brett Gardner's single. He fouled off a first-pitch curve before getting another one, which he rocketed over the wall in left.
It was Judge's 43rd homer of the year with an exit velocity of 105 mph or higher, according to Statcast™.
"I'm impressed by how he plays," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "I think the adjustments that he's made, pitches that he was chasing early, he's keeping the ball on the plate. He's just very intimidating, the size and the strength. There's just a very small margin of error."
In the process, Judge became the first Yankees rookie to homer in the postseason since Hideki Matsui in the 2003 World Series against the Marlins. He is the third Yanks rookie to homer in his postseason debut, joining Elston Howard (1955 World Series Game 1 vs. Brooklyn) and Shane Spencer (1998 ALDS Game 2 vs. Texas).
"I'm excited. We're blessed to have this opportunity," Judge said. "I'm just excited for our team, excited to go to Cleveland."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.