From the time Gerrit Cole arrived for spring training in early February, his new Yankees teammates heaped nonstop praise on the righthander.
On the eve of making his long-awaited Yankee Stadium debut in pinstripes, Cole turned the tables Sunday. When asked his impression of the Yankees, specifically the offense, he said, “Wow.”
A little more than a week into this 60-game season, it’s as good a summary as any.
The Yankees entered this week’s home-and-home series with the Phillies with an MLB-best 7-1 record, and their offense was responsible for most of the superlatives.
They had homered in each of their first eight games of a season for the fourth time in franchise history, and when DJ LeMahieu homered to lead off the first inning Monday night, that made it nine. A home run in the first game of Wednesday's doubleheader in Philadelphia will tie the franchise record of 10 games set in 1999.
Aaron Judge entered Monday’s game having homered in five straight games. He had six homers and 13 RBIs in that span. That run ended Monday night, though Judge still went 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored to raise his batting average to .314.
Of the Yankees’ 51 runs through Monday night's win over the Phillies, 37 had come by way of the home run. They've hit 10 solo homers, five two-run shots, three three-run blasts and two grand slams). When Judge hit a three-run homer in the second inning Sunday night against the Red Sox, it meant the Yankees’ last 20 runs had been the result of homers.
“The power is there, the communication through the lineup is there,” Cole said on a Zoom call Sunday. “The defense is crisp and guys are bringing it every night, especially with a lot of unknowns and a lot of uncertainties. We have certainly started off on the right foot. Very impressive so far.”
The Yankees have hit a major-league leading 20 homers en route to an 8-1 start, matching the franchise record through the first nine games of a season (20 in 1932 and 2019).
The streak put together by Judge, of course, has garnered the most attention. By homering Sunday — he had two, including a tiebreaking shot in the eighth inning that gave the Yankees a 9-7 victory over the Red Sox — he became the 10th Yankee to homer in at least five straight games and the first to do so since Alex Rodriguez, who also homered in five straight games from Sept. 4-9, 2007.
Only Don Mattingly (eight straight from July 8-18, 1987) Roger Maris (six straight from Aug. 11-16, 1961) and Lou Gehrig (six straight from Aug. 28-Sept. 1, 1931) have had longer home run streaks for the Yankees.
“He’s on a mission right now,” Aaron Boone said.
Judge’s hot start is significant for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is how the rightfielder’s 2020 started. He was sidelined much of Spring Training I as he continued to experience discomfort and pain in his right shoulder and rib area. The diagnosis of a right rib fracture and punctured lung finally came down the first week of March.
Only within the last four to six weeks did Judge receive clearance to swing a bat without limitations, so there was an element of uncertainty about what kind of production could be expected of him. He’s certainly answered all of the questions.
Joe Girardi, who saw Judge’s breakthrough 2017 rookie season firsthand during his final year as Yankees manager, had some easier-said-than-done advice for his pitchers.
“I suggest our pitchers don’t throw balls thigh to the waist and down the middle,” he said a few hours before Monday night’s game. “It’s not a good idea because he likes to put them in the metal bleachers out there [[in left]. But you have to make your pitches on him. He’s a dangerous hitter. He’s so strong he can miss pitches and still hit them out of the ballpark. We have to make pitches or he’s going to hurt us.”