BALTIMORE – Aaron Judge, much to the consternation of many Yankees fans – and certainly the Yankees organization – passed on the $230 million extension offer the franchise presented to him before Opening Day.
It was the classic case of a player betting on himself heading into a walk year.
Judge seems to have chosen wisely.
The outfielder continued his assault on opposition pitching Tuesday night, going 4-for-5, including two homers, in the Yankees' 5-4 victory over the Orioles in front of 12,635 at Camden Yards.
“Feels like every time I pitch, he does something amazing,” said Jameson Taillon, who was merely OK on the night, allowing three runs and six hits over five innings in improving to 4-1 with a 3.28 ERA. “I’m getting spoiled watching him.”
Judge, who upped his MLB-leading home run total to 14, entered the night ranked third in the big leagues in slugging (.632) and OPS (1.001). He’s 27-for-76 (.355) with 11 home runs, 25 RBIs and 23 runs in his last 19 games. Tuesday marked Judge’s third multi-homer game of the season (the Yankees have five total).
“A special player off to a special start,” Aaron Boone said.
Judge nearly had his first career three-homer game and would have in previous years at this ballpark. But he settled for an RBI double in the first when his shot hit the top of the new wall in left – which the Orioles raised and moved back, it now measuring 384 feet – in order to keep more balls in the ballpark for their dreadful pitching staff.
“It’s a travesty, I’m pretty upset,” Judge said with a wide smile of the new wall. “It looks like a create-a-park now. I didn’t like it because I always like coming here and playing here. Hopefully, maybe in a couple of years they can bring it back in.”
The Yankees, who are 27-9 for just the fifth time in franchise history, have won 22 of their last 26.
Judge’s night to a degree overshadowed more sheer brilliance by Michael King, who struck out six of the nine batters he faced over three perfect innings (6-8). King, in lowering his ERA to 1.40, has struck out 37 in 25 2/3 innings.
Aroldis Chapman went 9-for-9 in save chances but not before allowing a run. With runners on second and third, he retired Cedric Mullins on a foul pop to third to end it.
Judge’s first-inning double off Baltimore righthander Spencer Watkins made it 1-0.
The Orioles (14-23) tied it in the second when Ramon Urias sent a cutter over the wall in right-center.
Judge untied it with one out in the third, teeing off on a down-the-middle 2-and-2, 92-mph fastball and blasting it to center to make it 2-1.
Taillon gave up the lead in the fourth. Trey Mancini led off with a single and Rougned Odor blooped a double down the leftfield line. Urias bounced one up the middle that Gleyber Torres, charging in, booted for an error that allowed Mancini to score. Tyler Nevin, the son of former Yankees’ third-base coach Phil Nevin (now with the Angels), hit a sacrifice fly to make it 3-2.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde wisely didn’t allow Watkins to face Judge a third time but didn’t matter. After taking a ball from righty Joey Krehbiel, Judge roped a slider to center, tying it at 3. It marked Judge’s 30th homer in 76 games against the Orioles, the outfielder’s most homers vs. a single opponent.
The Yankees retook the lead in the sixth against righty Dillon Tate, a former Yankees farmhand. Torres singled and scored later in the inning on DJ LeMahieu's groundout to make it 4-3. Torres drove in Josh Donaldson, who doubled with two outs in the seventh, with a ground smash Urias, the shortstop, couldn’t handle, to make it 5-3.
“It’s fun with this team,” Judge said of the run the Yankees are on. “We want to be out there every single day. We’d play two games a night if we could. We have a special group here and right now no one’s trying to do too much.”
Judge, of course, at the moment is doing it all.