NEW YORK -- When Aaron Judge finally received a clean bill of health last month, the Yankees witnessed a higher level of intensity from their slugging outfielder, who remained on the field long after his teammates for additional swings. If he is “on a mission,” as manager Aaron Boone believes, then that should be terrifying news for any opposing pitchers.
Judge extended his career-best streak by homering in a fifth consecutive game, then added a go-ahead blast in the eighth inning, powering a 9-7 victory over the Red Sox in a Sunday slugfest at Yankee Stadium. No big league team owns more wins than the Yankees, who have won six straight games and boast a 7-1 record that equals the best eight-game start in franchise history.
“We're clicking on all cylinders right now,” Judge said. “Our offense is feeding off of each other, our bullpen’s doing their job. We're just having fun out there. I think a lot of us are glad to be having some baseball and to be back out on the field. It was a tough grind-out game against the Red Sox, like it usually is. But some guys came up with some clutch hits and we were able to come out with a win.”
Judge’s second-inning, three-run blast off Matt Hall made him the first Yankee to homer in five straight contests since Alex Rodriguez in 2007, and Judge added a deciding two-run shot off Matt Barnes in the eighth. Judge leads the league with six homers, and he is the first Major Leaguer to hit five go-ahead homers in his team’s first eight games of a season.
“He's healthy, man,” said Luke Voit , who hit one of the six homers launched in Sunday’s contest. “He's a stud. There's a reason he almost won the MVP [in 2017]. He's in a groove right now, and I'm excited to see what he can do in 60 games this year with how he's raking right now. It's a guy that you don't want to take your eyes off when he's hitting.”
A fractured right rib and a punctured lung kept Judge out of action during Spring Training, limiting his workload for much of the four-month shutdown, though Judge reported regularly to the club’s training complex in Tampa, Fla.
Boone said it was time well spent, as he saw a great difference in Judge’s health when the Yankees reassembled for Summer Camp last month.
“Every year, we're on a mission -- it's to go out there and win as many games as we can,” Judge said. “The last couple years, just thinking about the playoffs and not getting to the final goal that we want, it's time to get this thing rolling.”
DJ turns the tables
The Red Sox were ahead by a run heading to the eighth inning, their attack powered by Xander Bogaerts’ two-homer performance and claiming the lead on Rafael Devers’ seventh-inning homer, but DJ LeMahieu delivered a key at-bat with a run-scoring single off Barnes.
Mike Tauchman worked a two-out walk and stole second base. LeMahieu lashed Barnes’ 2-2 fastball into right field, chasing home Tauchman, who had entered the game in the seventh for defense.
“Tauch did a great job of getting on and stealing a base,” LeMahieu said. “Once he stole that base, I had a little extra focus there. Barnes, he's a good pitcher. Fortunately, he left me a pitch I could handle a little bit.”
LeMahieu’s at-bat set up Judge’s homer one batter later, as Barnes fell behind in a 2-0 count and spun a knuckle-curveball over the heart of the plate.
“He’s been all over everything,” Barnes said. “He’s pretty locked in right now. It seems like he’s been handling the high heater pretty well recently. You certainly can’t put a hanging breaking ball middle up and in on him.”
Pax to the drawing board
The Yankees have mashed 17 homers through eight games, and they needed to break out the bats after James Paxton struggled to miss bats for a second straight start.
The left-hander permitted five runs (three earned) over three innings, knocked for seven hits in a 62-pitch effort. Returning from back surgery performed in February, Paxton’s fastball averaged 91.5 mph and maxed at 92.9 mph, down from his 2019 average of 95.4 mph.
“I'm concerned,” Paxton said. “I'm trying to do everything I can to figure out what's going on. I don't know if it's just going to take some time to build it back up, but I'll get back at looking at the video [Monday] -- try and make some more tweaks and just figure out what I can do.”
Michael King held Boston to two runs over 3 2/3 innings out of the bullpen, while Adam Ottavino picked up the win by recording four outs in relief. Zack Britton, filling in as interim closer as Aroldis Chapman prepares to return, worked a perfect ninth inning for his third save.
“It was a good job by the ‘pen, coming in to hold them down enough,” Boone said. “I thought King was good. There were a lot of good things that happened tonight, with people contributing to a big win.”