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Aaron Judge homers again, deflects attention to Michael Pineda

Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees

Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees follows through on his fourth-inning home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on Monday, April 10, 2017. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Aaron Judge’s thought on Michael Pineda was well-intentioned: “You see a player going out there making his pitches, putting 110 percent out there, you want to run through a wall with him, you know?”

The Yankees will take a pass on that, even though the 6-7, 282-pound Judge probably would get the best of the player-versus-wall scenario.

Judge is starting to percolate, and the last thing the Gary Sanchez- and Greg Bird-less Yankees need is Judge joining them on the sideline.

Judge homered and singled for the second straight game as the Yankees beat the Rays, 8-1, in the home opener Monday at Yankee Stadium. It was Judge’s first “aw, shucks’’ moment of the year at home, and he played it to the hilt. Little about him, much on Pineda, who took a perfect game into the seventh inning.

“The takeaways are Pineda’s a heck of a pitcher,’’ Judge said. “That’s impressive, we all know that. He just went out there and did his thing.’’

Judge’s homer in the fourth inning gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead. It wasn’t quite the Mantle-like one he belted last year in his first major-league at-bat, but a sellout crowd roared when he smashed a drive over the wall in left. He is hitting .261 with two homers and four runs batted in.

“I think it’s important that he continues to contribute,’’ Joe Girardi said. “Being a young player can be difficult at times when you get off to a slow start. Maybe you’re not swinging quite as well as people think you should. There’s a lot of expectations placed on you. Any time you’re able to contribute — and he’s contributed pretty big the last two days — I think it helps relax you a little bit.’’

Judge said he was lifted by Pineda’s effort and the crowd: “You could feel a different energy in the stadium. It’s Opening Day, man, it was something else. I could really feel the crowd every single pitch. Once I got out there on the field and was stretching and saw the crowd, that’s when it really kind of hit me. Mike went out there and it was game on. Time to go battle.’’

At 24, Judge was the second-youngest player in the lineup by five months over shortstop Ronald Torreyes. Judge is part of the untouchable group that general manager Brian Cashman identified when he said he would not deal away the blue-chip prospects.

“Yankee fans are hungry,’’ Judge said. “They want a championship and I think they’re kind of buying into this team that we got with the veteran mix and younger guys. They’re excited for 2017, just like we are.”

Sanchez will be out at least a month and Bird is day-to-day. And Judge?

“I feel good,’’ he said. “I’m still standing. I’m still healthy, so we’re good. You miss Gary and Bird. Those are 2-3 hitters, 3-4 hitters . . . Any time they are out of the lineup, it’s tough. Everyone’s pulling the same rope, so if one guy goes down, somebody’s going to get the job done.”


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