NEW YORK -- This has the earmarks of another special Aaron Judge season, where anything seems possible as long as the Yankees keep a bat in his hands. That was the mission in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s wild back-and-forth contest, finding a way to get their biggest star up to home plate.
Judge needed at least one of his teammates to get on base, and when Jose Trevino and DJ LeMahieu worked walks, the ending seemed inevitable. Judge launched the first walk-off homer of his career, a three-run shot off Jordan Romano that powered the Yankees to a 6-5 victory over the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium.
“It’s a weird feeling,” said Judge, who leads the Majors this year with 10 homers. “You hear the crowd going crazy, you look at your bench and you see your guys jumping over the railing, just getting all excited. It’s a special moment that I got to share with them.”
After overcoming an early three-run deficit behind Giancarlo Stanton’s wall-scraping three-run homer in the sixth inning, the Yanks gave up two in the eighth and trailed by two heading into the bottom of the ninth. Win or lose, manager Aaron Boone said he already was considering it “a heavyweight game in May,” a back-and-forth battle between two American League East juggernauts.
Romano recorded the first out of the inning, but he lost Trevino on a high-and-tight 3-2 slider. Stepping toward the on-deck circle, Judge said he thought he’d at least have an opportunity to tie the game; LeMahieu did him better, looking at a 3-1 fastball outside that wasn’t particularly close.
“This was the plan -- get A.J. up, give us a chance to win the ballgame,” Trevino said.
And now it was the main event: power vs. power. Romano got ahead with two sliders, one taken for a called strike, the next fouled away. Judge spat on a third slider in the dirt, wasted a fastball away foul, then grounded a slider foul outside third base to keep the count 1-2.
Romano went to the slider once more; he probably shouldn’t have. This one was a hanger, left near Judge’s belt buckle, inviting a 414-foot drive into the second deck overlooking left field. Judge took a good look at the first of his 168 Major League homers to stamp the end of a ballgame. Only Lou Gehrig (260) and Mark Teixeira (205) swatted more homers in a Yankees uniform without enjoying a walk-off, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
From the players’ cafeteria, Luis Severino whooped and hollered, having performances like this from his fellow onetime "Baby Bomber" many times over.
“Everybody knows who Aaron Judge is,” Severino said. “In ’17, he should have won MVP that year, no doubt about it. He is a great hitter, a great player. In situations like tonight, you know that Aaron Judge is going to come through.”
Judge’s 112.5-mph blast provided an appropriate conclusion to a contest that featured other fireworks, waking up both benches after Yusei Kikuchi held the Yankees hitless through five frames. Stanton’s seventh homer tied the score, slicing against the wind to squeak into the right-field porch; Judge called that “the biggest at-bat of the game.”
Yimi Garcia’s second pitch after the homer drilled Josh Donaldson squarely on the upper left arm. Donaldson didn’t share words with Garcia, but the Yankees’ dugout did, including LeMahieu, as Donaldson ambled up the line while removing his padding. The four umpires convened on the infield, and moments later, they ejected Garcia.
According to crew chief Alfonso Marquez, the umpires determined intent based upon some “pretty strong words” exchanged between Donaldson and Toronto catcher Tyler Heineman earlier. Donaldson remarked dismissively of the 30-year-old Heineman, playing in his 29th big league game: “I don’t even know the guy. Never heard of him.”
Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo protested the umpires’ decision, but not swiftly enough to save pitching coach Pete Walker, who was also ejected. Boone and Donaldson both said after the game that they do not believe Garcia intended to hit Donaldson.
“In my heart of hearts, I don’t think that it was [intentional],” Donaldson said. “But it didn’t look good on television, that’s for sure.”
Montoyo would soon also be grumbling from the clubhouse, ejected in the seventh inning. Compare that to the Yankees’ dugout, where Judge and his teammates seemed to be all smiles following the Garcia incident, believing justice to be served and all to be right with the world.
“When Josh got hit, I think that kind of locked all of us in and said, ‘OK, it’s go time,’” Judge said. “Especially me. It got me going a little bit.”
Yep, it just might be that kind of season.