Aaron Judge #99 of the Yankees speaks to the media during...

Aaron Judge #99 of the Yankees speaks to the media during the Gatorade All-Star Workout Day at Coors Field on July 12, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. Credit: Getty Images/Justin Edmonds

DENVER — Yes, Aaron Judge watched the Astros’ shirt-ripping party after Jose Altuve’s walk-off homer, the humiliating blow that ended the Yankees’ crushing 8-7 loss Sunday at Minute Maid Park.

Martin Maldonado’s counter-trolling job in the third inning, when he pulled at his jersey, just as Judge did Saturday? That one Judge said he learned about secondhand.

"I didn’t see the Maldonado thing," Judge said Monday at the All-Star Game pre-workout availability. "Somebody talked about it. I did see after the game they were ripping off [Altuve’s] jersey and everything. That’s fun. He just hit a walk-off homer to win the game. That’s big-time. You do whatever you want out there. You can celebrate, you can walk around the bases. It’s all part of the game, you know?"

Judge’s booth was alongside Gerrit Cole’s for Monday’s media availability session, but the one with Aroldis Chapman’s name was conspicuously vacant. The struggling Chapman never pitched in the Astros series, watching Domingo German and Chad Green blow a 7-2 lead in the ninth inning Sunday, and his status as closer remains in doubt.

That certainly would have been a topic explored by the national media at Coors Field, but unlike Chapman, Judge and Cole were present to face the music regarding the Yankees’ first-half disappointment.

Altuve got the last laugh Sunday as Judge took it on the chin after his post-homer gesture rounding third base on Saturday. It was meant to mock Altuve, who faced allegations of wearing a buzzer in 2019 when his walk-off homer sent the Astros to the World Series and sent the Yankees home. Some believe Altuve told teammates not to tear off his jersey at the risk of exposing the buzzer.

That was never proved by MLB’s investigation into the Astros’ cheating scandal, but the Yankees obviously haven’t forgotten. And Judge had wrestled with how he would handle having Astros as teammates on the American League All-Star squad (the 2020 Midsummer Classic was canceled) when the players assembled in Denver.

Ultimately, Judge didn’t have to worry about it. Four Astros were selected to the All-Star team and all of them — Altuve, Carlos Correa, Ryan Pressly and Michael Brantley — passed on making the trip.

"I wouldn’t say I’m relieved," said Judge, who will start in rightfield and bat cleanup for the AL. "It’s part of it. They’ve got their priorities. They need to heal up, get ready. They’ve got family stuff, injuries, anything like that. They’re just trying to play it smart, do what’s best for them and the team. That’s their choice."

As Judge completed his diplomatic answer, a reporter quickly asked if maybe the potential boos awaiting them at Coors Field kept the Astros from coming.

"You said it, not me," Judge said, smiling. "I’m not too sure. I’m not in their shoes. I don’t know what they would go through or what they would hear. I think they made the best decision for themselves, their family, personal reasons."

But the questioning continued.

The Astros probably would have heard the loudest boos ever, right?

"Who knows?" Judge said. "I think the fans still got their opinions. Like I said, they took their personal reasons. The All-Star break, we only got three or four days, we’re playing 162 games, playing every single day, so I think they made the smart decision."

Judge chose not to compete in the Home Run Derby — an event he won in 2017 at Marlins Park — explaining he already has that trophy. But showing up for the All-Star Game itself, and playing, is something that remains important to him even if plenty of other players bowed out this year.

"I’ve got an opportunity to come here and celebrate with my family and friends, most importantly represent the Yankees and our fan base, is something that I never want to take for granted," Judge said. "It still gives me chills . . . It’s a special opportunity. It’s tough to describe it."

Despite Sunday’s brutal loss, which wrecked what could have been a huge springboard for the second half, Judge thinks the Yankees carried significant momentum into the All-Star break. And Cole prefers to look at the Yankees’ first 3 1⁄2 months as a half-full situation despite a 46-43 record that put them eight games behind the AL East-leading Red Sox (4 1/2 games out in the wild-card race).

"We’ve learned how to take a punch pretty good," Cole said. "But I’ve got to believe — I’ve got no other choice."

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