NEW YORK -- The Yankees believed that it wouldn’t be long before their big-swinging offense broke out. Aaron Judge never had any doubt.
Judge enjoyed the 17th multi-homer game of his career on Friday evening, blasting long balls in the third and fifth innings of the Yanks’ 4-1 victory over the Guardians at Yankee Stadium.
“We’ve got a lot of guys in here grinding,” Judge said. “The numbers may not show that they’re doing well, but they’re hitting the ball hard, doing their thing. Eventually, it’s got to turn. It’s baseball.”
Limited to one homer and two RBIs through his first 47 at-bats of the regular season, Judge seemed locked in against Cleveland, contributing two powerful swings and a strong throw that helped the Bombers open their six-game homestand on a positive note.
“Judgie had that look in his eye tonight,” said manager Aaron Boone. “He gave me that look right before the game, like, ‘I’ve got this.’ He was great.”
Judge said he wasn’t sure what the “look” was, but he was very familiar with the clean click of ball against barrel. Judge’s third-inning shot off right-hander Eli Morgan came with DJ LeMahieu aboard, a 112 mph launch into the right-field seats that traveled 397 feet.
He registered the same 112 mph exit velocity with his second homer of the night, a solo shot that flew 364 feet to right field off rookie left-hander Tanner Tully, who made his Major League debut on Friday.
“I was just excited to get our first run on the board,” Judge said. “Especially with our pitching staff and how they’ve been doing for us all year, we’ve just got to get them one run and I feel like we’re in a good spot.”
Playing center field for the fifth time this season, Judge also had a chance to show off his arm, uncorking a strong throw to third base in the fifth inning that cut down Andrés Giménez attempting to take an extra bag on Steven Kwan’s one-out single. Statcast measured Judge’s throw at 90.6 mph.
“I love playing center field,” Judge said. “I’ve been seeing [Giancarlo] Stanton and [Joey] Gallo throw out guys all year, and even last year. I had to step up and just do it there. [Josh Donaldson] put a good tag; I left it a little high for him, but he jumped down there and got it for me.”
Judge said he wasn’t surprised that Giménez tested him; the Guardians’ aggressiveness and speed was discussed in New York’s pre-series meeting.
“That was huge,” said Yankees starter Jameson Taillon, who tossed five innings to pick up his first win of the year. “I mean, the guy hits two home runs, then he shows up on defense and makes a big play. I think I’m probably out of the game right there if he doesn’t throw that guy out; that brings up José Ramírez with a chance to take the lead.”
Said Guardians manager Terry Francona: “It wasn’t not a good time to go. But it wasn’t a good time to hesitate and not go."
Drafted as a center fielder in 2013, Judge didn’t play the position in the Majors until March 2018, and Boone was hesitant to push that button regularly until last season. Judge has been the primary backup to Aaron Hicks in center field early this season, and Boone sees him as a more than capable defender.
“Once we ripped the Band-Aid off it, he’s been so steady out there,” Boone said. “He likes to go over and do it, and it just gives us some flexibility. He’s played [center field] really well.”
Friday marked Judge’s first multi-homer game since last Sept. 30 at Toronto. All 17 of Judge’s multi-homer performances have been two-homer games; he had an opportunity for a third blast in the eighth inning, but flew out to right field facing left-hander Konnor Pilkington.
Only five Yankees had more multi-homer games than Judge before celebrating their 30th birthday: Mickey Mantle (31), Lou Gehrig (25), Babe Ruth (22), Joe DiMaggio (21) and Roger Maris (18). Judge turns 30 on April 26.
“I’ve been feeling good all year,” Judge said. “You can’t base how the season is going to go off  games, but I just try to go out there and do my job, just like everybody else is. I just happened to get a hold of a few tonight.”