What makes Judge the game's must-see star

Yankee slugger's at-bats are dramatic moments waiting to happen

May 12th, 2018

This was a moment that happened even before lost one over the center-field wall at Yankee Stadium in the ninth inning on Wednesday night against Red Sox closer, . It was in the fifth inning, when the Yankees' right fielder -- once described by his former manager, Joe Girardi, as a defensive end -- closed on a ball hit by J.D. Martinez like a sprinter before making a diving-and-sliding catch.

Tony La Russa, who now works in the Red Sox's front office, was seated in the Yankee Stadium press box when Judge made that catch. La Russa did a lot as a manager on his way to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and has seen a lot during his baseball life.

At that point, he turned, smiled and said this about Judge:

"He can't be that good."

But "All Rise" Judge is that good. And as much as anybody else in the game right now -- his new teammate , , , , , Manny Machado or any of the other young guys tearing it up -- Judge is dramatic. He is a moment, especially at Yankee Stadium. When he comes walking in the direction of home plate, that place comes to a stop. He is the one the fans have come to see, about to do what they have paid to see, which is to try to hit another ball toward Monument Park or into the upper deck.

Crowds come to watch Judge do what Babe Ruth once did on the other side of 161st Street at the old Stadium -- the one New York legend, baseball legend and sports legend says Ruth built. They want to see him hit balls the way Mickey Mantle did in that same place, when he was young. They want to see home runs. The Yankees first became glamorous because of home runs. Now, they are hitting them again.

Alex Rodriguez hit a ton of home runs for the Yankees, too, and played there a long time -- and even helped the Yankees win a World Series while he was there -- around controversies for his use of performance-enhancing drugs. But Yankee fans never considered Rodriguez one of their own, the way Derek Jeter was. It was the same way when Roger Maris was hitting more home runs in the summer of 1961 than Mantle did, when they were both chasing the records and ghost of Ruth. Yankee fans of that time grew up with Mickey, the way young Yankee fans are growing up with Judge now.

Stanton may hit more home runs than Judge this season, the way he did last season when he was with Miami. But Judge came to the Stadium first. He was the great big action hero first -- and was first to 50 homers for this generation of Yankee fans. It matters.

In addition to everything else, Judge carries himself with the kind of old-Yankee grace that even young Yankee fans appreciate. At Yankee Stadium, La Russa had been talking about all the young talent on the field, for both teams -- Judge and Stanton (still just 28), as well as , Betts, , , 21-year-old -- hitting .344 entering this weekend for the Yankees -- and .

"These are young, talented guys who are high-character guys, too," La Russa said.

Judge hit that home run off Kimbrel on Wednesday night to make it, 9-6, for the Yankees. He hit a three-run homer on Friday night against the A's that briefly brought the Yankees back to within a run at 5-4 in a game they would finally lose, 10-5. In between, on Thursday night, Judge tried to pull another ball hit by Martinez out of the right-field stands, something we have seen before from Judge out there, up above the wall. This time, he missed. There was the suggestion that fan interference might have been involved. It wasn't. Judge was the one to say that after the game.

"I ran into [the fan], but once it gets past that line, it's fair game," Judge said. "If I had gotten a better read, [I would have caught it], that is what it came down to. I just missed it."

So in addition to grading high on just about all aspects of the game, Judge grades high on accountability, too. It matters in sports the way it does everywhere else. You wondered how he would hit this season, after the way he hit last season on his way to finishing second in the American League MVP voting behind Altuve. Now, he is showing everybody. Betts has been superb for the Red Sox so far, while Machado is putting up crazy-good numbers for the Orioles -- even in a lost season in Baltimore.

But Trout is still the best player. You measure everybody against him. Entering Saturday, he had 33 runs, 45 hits, eight doubles, 12 homers, 25 RBIs, a .321 batting average, a slugging percentage of .664, and an OPS of 1.109.

"All Rise" Judge? He had 30 runs, nine doubles, 10 homers, 32 RBIs, a .309 batting average, a slugging percentage of .590, and an OPS of 1.029 heading into Saturday.

Yeah, Judge is that good. There is no reason, if he is blessed with good health, to think he won't continue to get better. There is a lot to see right now with the Yankees. He is the one the people most want to see at Yankee Stadium. There are a lot of at-bats to watch in baseball in this time when we're blessed to watch as much young talent as there has ever been, and not just in Boston and New York. Judge is the at-bat you most want to watch. There is no stat to measure that, no analytics. It is something you just see, feel and know -- especially on 161st Street in the Bronx.