ANAHEIM, Calif. — The chants showered down from all corners of Angels Stadium, which suddenly made this spot in Southern California sound very much like the Bronx.
The noise was, of course, for Aaron Judge, who heard it in a road stadium for the first time but surely not the last.
The California native, playing in front of plenty of friends and family, including his adoptive parents, added to an MVP-caliber resume that grows by the day.
His MLB-leading 22nd homer of the season, a tiebreaking two-run shot to right-center in the eighth inning, led the Yankees to their sixth straight victory, 5-3, over the Angels in front of 36,245 on Monday night.
“In Mike Trout’s town,” Joe Girardi said of the chants, referencing the injured Angels outfielder, who has won two MVPs. “It really is [remarkable].”
An error by Chase Headley led to two unearned runs in the bottom of the seventh as the Angels tied it at 3 against Masahiro Tanaka and Tyler Clippard, but Judge felt he was the one in need of atonement.
Judge airmailed a throw home as Eric Young Jr. scored on Danny Espinosa’s two-out single to make it 3-2. The throw was so high that it not only couldn’t be cut off but sailed over catcher Austin Romine’s head and forced Tanaka, backing up the plate, to reach up for it. That allowed Espinosa to go to second, and he scored on Cameron Maybin’s double off Clippard.
“I screwed up the game for Tanaka,” Judge said. “He was untouchable after the first inning and I airmail a throw to the backstop. I have to know I have no shot at throwing him out at home. I was just trying to come up the next inning and help out the team somehow.”
Aaron Hicks, 0-for-4 to that point, started the go-ahead rally with a one-out double off the wall in left against lefty Jose Alvarez, and righty Bud Norris came in to face Judge.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia chose to pitch to him even though first base was open, and Norris fell behind 2-and-0. Then he threw a cutter that Judge drove halfway up the seats in right-center, bringing down much of a house that sounded full of Yankees fans.
“I thought they might pitch around him because he’s been swinging the bat so well,” Girardi said, likely echoing many Angels fans’ thoughts. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen there, but he got a pitch and he crushed it.”
Judge, the reigning AL Player of the Week after recording a .500/.600/1.000 slash line with three homers, six RBIs and 10 runs in six games last week against the Red Sox and Orioles, finished the night 2-for-4 with a walk. The two hits and walk came after he struck out his first two at-bats.
“Wasn’t really swinging at my pitch early in the game, so I had to make an adjustment,” said Judge, who, as has been the case at home, said he hasn’t paid too much attention to the MVP chants. “Had to simplify my mechanics a little bit in my approach and then just pick one out and go after it.”
Judge entered the game leading the AL in the Triple Crown categories, hitting .344 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs. (Now he’s at .347, but he trails the Mariners’ Nelson Cruz in RBIs, 50-49.) Judge entered the night ranked second in the big leagues in OBP (.450), slugging (.718) and OPS (1.168).
The AL East-leading Yankees (a season-high 15 games over .500 at 38-23) stayed four games ahead of the Red Sox. The Yankees, who outscored the Red Sox and Orioles 55-9 in the first five games of their winning streak, had 11 hits against the Angels. In the last six games, they have hit .362 with 18 homers.
Dellin Betances recorded the final four outs for his sixth save, striking out the side in the ninth.
The Yankees took a 3-1 lead on a trio of two-out RBI singles, by Didi Gregorius (four hits) in the third and fifth innings and Headley in the seventh.
The late-game theater overshadowed to a degree what, looking long-term, might have been the best part of the night for the Yankees.
That would be Tanaka recapturing, for a good portion of the game, the form that made him the Yankees’ best pitcher during the previous three seasons.
“Really encouraging,” Girardi said.
Tanaka, who entered the game 5-6 with a 6.55 ERA this season, including 0-5 with a 10.72 ERA during a five-game skid going into Monday night, allowed three runs (one earned), four hits and two walks in 6 2⁄3 innings. With as good a slider as he’s had this season and a solid splitter as well, Tanaka struck out eight.
Tanaka, who had allowed 11 home runs in his last 22 2⁄3 innings and 17 in 66 innings this season, gave up yet another homer on his third pitch of the game, a drive by Kole Calhoun.
He walked Albert Pujols on four pitches after Calhoun’s homer but retired 15 of the next 16 hitters he faced.
“I felt like I did a better job of everything,” Tanaka said through his translator. “Had good concentration on the mound, felt like I was able to execute all my pitches well. I’m happy to get the results I got today.”