Aaron Judge can’t help but make a big impression when he enters a room or a batter’s box or even a 50,000-seat stadium.
He hadn’t made much of an impression in the first two games of the American League Championship Series against the Astros, but that changed in a big way Monday night at the Stadium.
Judge hit a three-run home run — his first long ball since the AL wild-card game — and made two outstanding defensive plays in Game 3 as the Yankees beat the Astros, 8-1.
The Yankees led 4-0 with two outs in the fourth inning and had the bases loaded when Astros manager A.J. Hinch brought in righthander Will Harris to replace starter Charlie Morton to face Judge.
The Stadium crowd was looking for a big hit from the rookie slugger so the Yankees could break the game open. And they got one, but not before Harris threw a run-scoring wild pitch to make the score 5-0.
The count got to 2-and-2. Judge, who had struck out in the first and walked on a close 3-and-2 pitch in the third, probably was just looking to make contact. He did much more than that, lining a three-run homer to left to give the Yankees an 8-0 advantage.
In the first two ALCS games, Judge was 1-for-7 with a walk and three strikeouts. Entering Monday, he was 2-for-27 with 19 strikeouts in the ALDS and ALCS. His numbers look a little better now.
“I haven’t changed anything since day one,” he said. “It works during the regular season, and why would I come in the postseason and try to change something even though I’m struggling for three or four games, five, six games? It’s six games. I’ve got to get ready for the game today, and that’s what I’m focused on.”
The crowd chanted “MVP! MVP!” after his homer, but it wasn’t the first time Judge heard that on Monday.
With the Yankees leading 3-0 on Todd Frazier’s three-run homer, Yuli Gurriel sent a drive to the rightfield wall leading off the fourth. The 6-7 Judge raced back and grabbed the ball with a leap before face-planting into the wall and rebounding off it with a backwards somersault. CC Sabathia pointed at Judge to give his thanks.
“That’s what we want,” Frazier said. “That’s what every teammate wants to see . . . He’ll go through the wall for you. That’s all you can ask for as a teammate, as a player, as a friend. You see a guy put his head basically through the wall and then dive — he’s a big guy, so the ground is going to shake when he hits the ground. So he’s got to be careful. But at the same time, we love it, enjoy it. And that’s what we have. We have guys on this team that will basically go through walls for everybody.”
In the fifth, Judge showed he could make a great catch coming in, too. He robbed Cameron Maybin of a hit with a diving catch for the first out of the inning.
Before the game, Yankees manager Joe Girardi was asked about the high number of called strikes on Judge in the postseason. The Yankees think umpires have been calling too many low strikes on him.
“It’s part of what’s going to happen to him because he’s so tall,” Girardi said. “And he works on hitting a low pitch. And he’ll continue to get better as time goes on. I think there are some pitches that were called on him during the series that haven’t necessarily been strikes. There’s a big difference between 1-and-1 and 2-and-0, 2-and-1. There’s a big difference in the way it changes an at-bat. Hopefully, he’ll start getting some that go his way, and they start making some mistakes up.”