As Aaron Judge walked into the Yankees’ clubhouse a little before 11 on Sunday morning, an ESPN “SportsCenter” feature about him had just finished playing on two of the large TV screens facing his locker.
Part of the piece was about Judge’s gum-chewing habits. We kid you not.
Pretty soon, there’s not going to be anything left to say about Judge. He has his own cheering section at Yankee Stadium, The Judge’s Chambers. And now he has his first career grand slam, a rocket to right-center that was the big blow in the Yankees’ 9-5 win over the A’s.
Judge’s third-inning slam off righthander Andrew Triggs came on a 2-and-1 pitch and had an exit velocity of 111.5 mph, courtesy of the new exit-velo feature on the stadium’s centerfield scoreboard — another sign of the Judge effect.
The grand slam turned a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 lead and got the Judge-loving crowd of 45,232 on its feet, many of them chanting “MVP, MVP” at the 6-7, 282-pound rookie.
The fans probably didn’t know this at the time, but the Yankees were on their way to improving to 13-1 this season when Judge homers. And 1-0 all-time when he hits a grand slam.
In his previous at-bat, Judge had lined out to right. That bullet had an exit velocity of 112.6 — even harder than the grand slam.
The person who is least impressed with Judge, by the way, is Judge.
A Yankees official asked if he wanted the team to try to get the grand slam ball back.
“Let the fan keep it,” Judge said.
Of the MVP chants, Judge said: “I try not to listen to them. I’ve got a job to do.”
Michael Pineda (6-2) allowed three runs (two earned) in six innings for the win as the Yankees took the rubber match from the mistake-prone A’s and finished 4-2 on their homestand.
All of the runs on Judge’s grand slam — and another run in the next inning — were unearned because of Oakland errors. Triggs (5-4), who was charged with six runs (one earned) in six innings, actually lowered his ERA to 2.64. The A’s have 49 errors, which is by far the most in the American League.
The A’s took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on Ryon Healy’s two-run single. The Yankees scored in the bottom of the inning on Aaron Hicks’ sacrifice fly to deep center.
Ronald Torreyes led off the third with an infield single and Gary Sanchez singled with one out before Matt Holliday sent a drive into the rightfield corner that Matt Joyce reached after a long run and dropped for an error to load the bases.
After Starlin Castro struck out on three pitches, Judge hammered the 16th home run of his amazing rookie season to the centerfield side of The Judge’s Chambers to give the Yankees their first lead of the day.
The blast tied Judge with Mike Trout for the major-league lead in homers. All rise, indeed.
“Our main goal is just to pick up a teammate,” Judge said. “Castro’s been carrying this team for two months now. I was just trying to pick up a teammate.”
Manager Joe Girardi called Judge “a defensive end playing baseball” and marveled at his athleticism. But Judge also is proving to be a student of the game. He said he remembered facing Triggs, a sidewinding righthander, in Double-A. When Judge looked at video of the encounters, all he saw were strikeouts. So he resolved to stay in longer against Triggs and let the ball get deeper before swinging.
It worked. After his line drive to right and grand slam, Judge nearly hit a homer to left in his third at-bat, but he just got under it, producing a towering flyout.
“God knows how far that would have landed if he wouldn’t have gotten under it a little bit,” Girardi said. “He’s an amazing athlete.”
The Yankees made it 6-2 in the fourth when Hicks singled, stole second, moved to third on catcher Josh Phegley’s throwing error and scored on Chris Carter’s sacrifice fly.
Pineda allowed an unearned run in his final inning, the sixth, when he walked Jed Lowrie, balked him to second and then threw away a comebacker by Khris Davis for a run-scoring error. All Pineda’s doing, but still an unearned run on his record. He allowed three hits, walked three and struck out five.
Sanchez smacked an RBI double off the glove of diving Oakland leftfielder Davis in the seventh — he had it for a split-second but lost the ball as he hit the ground and rolled over on his back — to make it 7-3.
Chad Green allowed a two-run homer to Davis in the eighth as the A’s pulled to within 7-5, but Tommy Layne and Adam Warren combined to throw three pitches to get the final two outs of the inning.
Brett Gardner dunked a two-out, two-run double to left in the bottom of the eighth to make it 9-5. That allowed Girardi to keep Warren in the game rather than bring in Dellin Betances, who had a five-out save Saturday. Warren pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his first save of the season.