Judge 'rises to the occasion,' belts record-setting homer

Yankees star hits 4th home run in winner-take-all scenarios

October 19th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Whenever the Yankees needed him over the course of 162 games, Aaron Judge always seemed to be ready with a home run, no matter what situation the Bronx Bombers found themselves in, en route to becoming the new American League home run king with 62 long balls.

This postseason, that story hadn’t played out as well as Judge and the Yankees might have hoped. He started the American League Division Series 0-for-8, and after his fourth strikeout in Friday night’s Game 2 loss, Judge was the subject of boos from the crowd at Yankee Stadium. It was an outcome that might have seemed unfathomable at any point during his march toward history, as he led the AL in almost every major offensive category in what will likely culminate in an AL MVP Award-winning campaign.

All manager Aaron Boone had to say about it afterward was, “It’s the Bronx, man.”

The Yankees know the deal. That’s why, with their 2022 season hanging in the balance in Game 5 of the ALDS on Tuesday afternoon, there was nowhere else they would have rather been than Yankee Stadium, where a sold-out crowd of 48,178 was locked in from the start.

As has been the case so often this year, Judge gave the fans exactly what they came for.

After Giancarlo Stanton’s game-opening three-run homer, Judge unleashed his trademark swing and launched a solo shot into the right-field seats in the second inning. It was his fourth career home run in a winner-take-all postseason game -- the most in Major League history -- as the Yankees surged past the Guardians with a 5-1 win to clinch a spot in the AL Championship Series, where they will meet the Astros in Houston on Wednesday night.

When Judge returned to the dugout after yet another home run trot, TBS cameras spotted the impending free agent kissing his pinstriped jersey right on the Yankees logo.

“I’ve been watching a lot of Premier League soccer games, and I think that kind of got the best of me,” Judge said inside a champagne-soaked clubhouse. “The fans brought the energy tonight from the very first pitch. They were on it: they were loud, they were screaming, and they made it a fun atmosphere in a winner-take-all.”

Shortly after final out, he and the entire Yankees team hustled back onto the field to celebrate with those fans. They popped more bottles for the cameras and made sure to soak in the moment, one that had been delayed by Monday’s rainout.

“They continue to show out and pack this place out,” Judge said. “Getting the chance to win a Game 5 here at home and move on to the next round with these fans, that’s what it’s about for us. We wanted to try to get out there as soon as we can while there’s still some fans out there.”

It wasn’t an easy road to reach this point, especially for Judge, who tallied just four hits (two homers) in the best-of-five set, with 11 total strikeouts and just one walk. Only 13 players have been punched out 10 or more times in a series of that length, and it has happened to Judge twice (both coincidentally against Cleveland).

But all that mattered to Judge was whether the Yankees advanced, and he showed up when it mattered most, as did his slugging partner Stanton. With that first-inning blast, Stanton had tied the record Judge later broke -- joining Yogi Berra, Didi Gregorius, Troy O’Leary and Moose Skowron with three winner-take-all homers.

That bodes well for the Yankees, who are now 28-2 (including the postseason) when their heralded duo leave the yard in the same game. Judge and Stanton have homered in the same postseason game four times, which is tied for the second most a pair of teammates have done so all-time, behind only former Astros teammates Carlos Correa and George Springer’s eight per the Elias Sports Bureau.

“He always rises to the occasion,” Stanton said of Judge. “He knows when it’s a huge game. He’s going to step up.”

Now, a 2017 and 2019 ALCS rematch with Houston awaits. Judge is one of the only Yankees remaining who twice endured heartbreak at the hands of the Astros on the doorstep of the World Series. He expects to be ready whenever the Yankees need him to make sure they have another chance to celebrate instead.

“My ultimate goal is to go out there and win a World Series, and that’s a team that’s kind of always been in the way,” Judge said. “They got a great ballclub over there, so you kind of got to go through Houston to get to your ultimate goal of winning a World Series. So I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great matchup, and we’re going to have some fun.”