Joe Girardi, not often given to declarations, made one unprompted after watching Aaron Judge hit two home runs to break Mark McGwire’s rookie record.
“He’s in the conversation for the MVP,” Girardi said Monday. “Not only the Rookie of the Year, but MVP.”
Judge launched his 49th and 50th homers, surpassing McGwire’s 49 in 1987, leading the Yankees to an 11-3 victory over the Royals on a steamy afternoon at the Stadium.
The 25-year-old Judge has re-ignited an American League MVP candidacy that had gone dormant when he opened the second half of the season in a horrific slump. The rightfielder has 11 homers in his last 14 games, including one against each AL team this season. Judge, who earlier Monday was named AL Player of the Week, had a .366/.491/1.098 slash line in his previous 13 games.
“One thousand percent,” CC Sabathia said in endorsing Girardi’s MVP comment. Sabathia offered his reasons.
“Just look at what he’s done,” he said. “Hitting 50 home runs, carrying this team to the playoffs. We can honestly say that we’re in this spot because of him. I think that’s what the MVP is.”
Judge went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and a walk, improving his season slash line to .283/.418/.620. with a 1.038 OPS. The numbers are impressive, but so are those accumulated by the Astros’ Jose Altuve and the Angels’ Mike Trout, two favorites for the award. Not surprisingly, Judge, who consistently, though genially, has deflected questions about himself and his achievements all season, wasn’t going there.
“I haven’t really thought about it, just like the record, I don’t try to think about that,” Judge said. “Especially with what this team’s got going on with this playoff push. That’s more important to me. I’d rather be in a good position in the playoffs and holding up a World Series trophy than an AL MVP trophy.”
Sabathia (13-5, 3.84) allowed three runs and six hits in six innings as the Yankees (87-69) won for the 16th time in 22 games. They start a three-game series against the Rays at the Stadium Tuesday night as they continue their all but certain journey toward hosting next Tuesday’s wild-card game.
Few teams, Cleveland excluded, look more October ready than the Yankees, who had 15 hits, including three by Gary Sanchez and Ronald Torreyes. Sanchez added his 33rd homer, and Greg Bird hit his seventh.
Still, Judge heads the list of reasons why the Yankees look so dangerous. For the record, No. 49 came in the third inning, when Judge took a full-count fastball from righthander Jakob Junis the other way to right for a two-run homer that made it 3-0. Judge crushed No. 50 in the seventh, a towering shot to left-center off righty Trevor Cahill that made it 7-3.
Many forget that Judge wasn’t even named the starting rightfielder ahead of Aaron Hicks until the very end of spring training on March 30. Judge called the entire season “an incredible ride.” Following his 50th, he took his first career curtain call, but only at the prodding of teammates in the dugout.
“We were yelling, ‘Get up there!’ ” Todd Frazier said.
Judge smiled, recalling the embarrassing moment. “Just the spotlight,” he said. “The game’s still going on, we still have a game to play, so I was more focused on that.”
But, Judge said, his teammates’ wishes prevailed.
“They kind of told me, ‘You’ve got to go out there, you’ve got to go out there,’ ” he said. “First curtain call, I hope it was a good one.”
YOU BE THE JUDGE
The statistical credentials for the leading AL MVP candidates (Monday night’s games not included):
Jose Altuve, Astros 2B
Mike Trout, Angels CF
Aaron Judge, Yankees RF