TORONTO – Aaron Judge made it seven straight games without a homer Tuesday night – which kept him at 60 for the season – but it’s not like the outfielder has had a lot of opportunities in which to launch No. 61.
Which has been the case in more than a few of those seven games.
Judge, though certainly seeing some pitches to hit and not always putting them in play, still hasn’t seen all that many.
The careful nature in which pitchers have gone after him in the last week culminated in Judge going 0-for-1 with four walks in Tuesday night’s 5-2 victory over the Blue Jays that clinched the American League East crown for the Yankees and the No. 2 seed in the upcoming AL playoffs.
“It was great,” said Aaron Boone who, with the division clinched, contemplated giving Judge off Wednesday night but, at the outfielder’s urging, ultimately chose to start him at DH. “I thought he got some pitches to hit, too. He’s fouling off some pitches, but his ability to lay off some pitches, close (but) out of the zone, especially at the top of the order, is (impressive).”
And, to Judge, certainly not frustrating.
"I'll take four walks for a win every single day," he said afterward in the Yankees’ clubhouse, which was in full celebration over just the second East title the franchise has won since 2012 (the other was in 2019).
In his first at-bat Tuesday, Judge led off against Jose Berrios and hit a line-drive rope but right at third baseman Matt Chapman. Judge walked in his next four at-bats.
“Four walks…(he) set the table,” Boone said of the AL MVP front-runner, who scored two runs in the win. “It's awesome to see the discipline that he's showing and just the consistency of at-bats while he's going through this with all the attention around it. I keep saying he'll get there, he’ll get it, but to see him rack up quality at-bat after quality at-bat is impressive.”
Boone said “I don’t think there’s any question” that Judge’s selectiveness benefits the rest of the order.
“We talk about that all the time," Boone said. "When you have a strong lineup that grinds pitchers down, eventually it nets mistakes along the way or it makes a pitcher have to work that much harder (when) you're having those level of at-bats. I don't think there's any question that over time it’s going to be a good thing for the team and for the group. And he’s certainly making it difficult on them.”
It is part of what makes the “he’s clearly pressing trying to get No. 61” narrative that has emerged in some circles somewhat ridiculous. In the seven-game homerless stretch – his second-longest without one this season behind a nine-game stretch in August – Judge is hitting just .263 (5-for-19) but with an absurd .548 on-base percentage because of 12 walks in 31 plate appearances. He’s also hit three doubles.
“His patience (since No. 60) has been phenomenal at the plate,” one AL talent evaluator assigned to the Yankees said. “The fact he drew five full-counts last night is incredible.”
Added a National League scout, also assigned to the Yankees, of the notion Judge is pressing: “I mean, come on. Just look at the at-bats. There’s never that kind of plate discipline when (a guy is) pressing. Does he feel the weight of it (trying to catch and pass Roger Maris)? He IS human so maybe. But feeling it and showing it aren’t the same. There’s no evidence I see of it (Judge pressing).”
Before Wednesday’s game, Boone said Tuesday night essentially was par for the course for Judge in 2022.
“I think teams have been going after him (in the last week),” Boone said. “He’s just not chasing, he’s so disciplined right now … discipline has been one of his calling cards this year and one of the reasons he’s having such a great season. As at-bats have unfolded, that ability has shown up and last night it ended up with four walks. So we’ll take that every time.”