Aaron Judge did something he had never done before on Saturday.
In his second full season in the major leagues, the 6-7, 282-pound Judge has become the Paul Bunyan of baseball — collecting achievements and accolades with relative ease and constructing a gigantic myth that seems to follow him from ballpark to ballpark. But behind the tall tales, there’s a player, Aaron Boone said, who studies the game, makes adjustments and is steadfastly dedicated to incremental improvement.
So yes, in the third inning of the Yankees’ 9-1 win over the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium, Judge hit a very long home run very hard, and he did it on a 3-and-0 count. It was his first career homer on 3-and-0, a pitch hitters generally take.
The Yankees then scored seven runs in the sixth and Jordan Montgomery had exactly the sort of performance that a tired bullpen needed, allowing one run in six innings. He escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the third and a first-and-third, one-out jam in the fifth. Miguel Andujar also had a big day, going 2-for-4 with a three-run double, his eighth extra-base hit in the last five games.
But back to Judge, who went 2-for-4 with his sixth home run and three RBIs. There’s a reason, he said, that he swung there instead of taking a pitch, and that’s because he has learned that Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman can make mistakes when he’s behind in the count. It’s hardly an earth-shattering development, but it does paint the portrait of a player Boone said is even better than the manager thought he was.
“I knew 52 home runs, Rookie of the Year, a guy who gets on over 40 percent of the time,” Boone said. “I understand he’s an elite-level hitter. You look at those numbers, but I’m so impressed with how well he knows himself. He develops a game plan going into the game . . . Eventually, he’ll get a mistake because he’s so good extending at-bats because he’s not going to go out and chase a pitcher’s pitch that, if you’re not perfect and you don’t execute perfectly against him, he usually makes you pay.”
Former Patchogue-Medford star Stroman was cruising until that at-bat in the third. After Brett Gardner drew a two-out walk, Judge eviscerated Stroman’s 92-mph fastball, sending a 443-foot gift to a young fan sitting in the second deck in leftfield. The drive had an exit velocity of 116.1 mph and gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead
Judge is hitting .438 (7-for-16) with four homers against Stroman.
“A guy like that, you can’t take any pitches off,” Judge said. “You’ve gotta stay ready, whether it’s 0-0, 3-0, 1-0, you’ve got to be ready to attack . . . He’s going to command his pitches in the zone and he’s got some nasty stuff, some of the best stuff in the league, so 3-and-0, if he’s going to give me one somewhat over the plate, I gotta take a chance on it.”
The Blue Jays got one back in the fifth on Steve Pearce’s RBI single, but Montgomery escaped further damage and Stroman came undone in the sixth.
Gardner singled, Judge walked and Didi Gregorius lined a single to right to make it 3-1. After Giancarlo Stanton walked to load the bases, Aaron Hicks topped a ball to the first-base side of the mound on which Stroman made a Derek Jeter-like backhand flip to the plate, but Luke Maile dropped it for an error.
Neil Walker was called out on strikes, but Andujar lined a three-run double to deep left-center to make it 7-1 and knock out Stroman, who was replaced by John Axford. Austin Romine walked and Ronald Torreyes singled to load the bases again, and the Yankees made it 9-1 on Gardner’s sacrifice fly and Judge’s RBI single.
“I hope I keep growing and getting better every day,” Judge said. “That’s the goal . . . It’s like you’re building a house — one brick down at a time. Try to be consistent and try to be better every day.”
If he grows any more than this, and he’ll have to get a blue ox.